Arsenal finally ended their barren run when facing Manchester City over the weekend, as they went toe to toe with last season’s Premier League champions and came out the other side unscathed.
Although it was hardly a classic, as Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola engaged in more of a chess match regarding tactical flexibility as they sought to gain control, the actual game devolved into a cagey affair, as neither side piled forward with devotion, likely scared of losing rather than desperate to win.
However, it was the attacking impetus injected by Gabriel Martinelli that proved decisive, as his first-team effort took a heavy deflection off Nathan Ake and sent the Emirates into raptures.
The full-time scenes such a result sparked were electric, and they now sit atop the league table, only level with north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Whilst there were many standouts in what will likely go down as a famous victory, the midfield mastery of Declan Rice certainly proved decisive, and highlighted just how important it was for Edu to ensure it was the Gunners who secured his services, and not the Citizens.
Did Manchester City nearly sign Declan Rice?
There was a brief period in which their fierce title rivals entered the race for West Ham United’s captain, forcing them to act with far more speed after what had been a long, drawn-out process beforehand.
Desperate to ensure the best possible deal was achieved, they saw two bids rejected before Guardiola came in to crash the party, the latter of which totalled up to £90m. The Etihad outfit would submit a former offer of their own, although it would prove fruitless
Arteta could not allow such a fierce competitor to be bolstered through their own failures, and the eventual £105m deal was soon sealed. As The Athletic put it: “This time, it truly was all or nothing for Arsenal. No Plan B, no capacity for frugal switches to alternative targets and, therefore, no room for error. It was Declan Rice or bust.”
Every deal they had made was linked to the England international and the qualities he was set to offer, which made their tentative initial movements more questionable.
Although they would get their man in the end, it could truly have been game over for the Gunners had City stolen their top target, as they saw Rice as the man capable of taking them to the next level and usurping the seemingly unstoppable side.
Breaking the British transfer record marked a huge risk, but it is one that already seems to be paying off. His performance on Sunday marked a culmination of such a notion.
How did Declan Rice play vs Manchester City?
Starting alongside Jorginho and Martin Odegaard, it was widely expected that, were they to achieve success on Sunday afternoon, Rice would be key. He made up an important spine of a side without Bukayo Saka in the matchday squad and without Martinelli in the starting lineup.
So, it should come as no surprise that such a suggestion rang true, with his 7.7 Sofascore rating the highest of anyone on the pitch, only matched by teammate Ben White.
The midfield general was defensively immaculate, silencing the potent threat of City’s engine room stars, whilst boasting a calm head to ensure that the occasion did not get to his teammates. It truly is remarkable just how assured the 24-year-old remains, as he got one over on the other team who could have signed him.
Boasting 58 touches emphasises his influence, whilst his 90% pass accuracy is indicative of that economical nature that helped maintain what control they boasted throughout the match. However, adding two key passes to these figures truly takes them to new heights, and showcases a world-class star capable of starring on the biggest stage, against the toughest opponents, via Sofascore.
Making two clearances, three interceptions, one block and three tackles would only add to this notion, with his early clearance off the line helping to offset the early pressure from the visitors that nearly saw David Raya crumble.
The media would flock to laud Rice, with journalist Dan Kilpatrick handing him an 8/10 when penning his post-match ratings, also claiming: “Cleared an early Gvardiol effort off the line and shielded the defence superbly in a robust performance.”
Then, content creator Gooner Chris would supplement such a notion: “Declan Rice was immense against Man City, he snuffed out so many dangerous runs. Elite baller! Worth every damn penny. I’m so excited about the prospect of him permanently in the 8 role with Partey snug behind him. Who’s going to stop us?”
To boast such immense influence in a game of that magnitude goes a long way towards paying back the huge financial investment made to acquire his services, and proves Arteta’s gamble may have already paid off by giving them the edge over their rivals.
How good is Declan Rice?
What makes Rice so special is that such a performance likely came as a surprise to few.
Whilst the media debates whether Moises Caicedo or Enzo Fernandez are justifying their huge price tags over at Chelsea, there has been complete silence about the £240k-per-week ace. He has been near-faultless since joining, and to already be meriting a £105m figure for a midfielder is generational.
The 6 foot 1 maestro is arguably the perfect player for Arteta in that engine room, even if he is not the most flashy player. When compared to other midfielders across Europe, via FBref, he sits in the top 5% for interceptions per 90, the top 14% for pass completion per 90, and the top 17% for progressive carries per 90, and that is all he needs.
There is no need for flashy, high-risk manoeuvres in positions of peril, nor does he need to score or assist every other match. Rice excels in a very specific vacuum, and his integration has filled that void for Arsenal.
It was a massive gamble to spend so freely on the former Republic of Ireland international, and one which drew questions. Pundit Roy Keane would even note: “They have obviously paid way too much for him. He’s certainly not worth over £100m, Declan Rice, but a really good player.
“We’ll find out over the next year or two how good Declan is. He turns up every week, he is a big strong boy – again, you talk about that physicality, they lacked that in the last month or two (of last season). Has he got that really top quality in terms of seeing a pass and getting nine, ten goals? We’ll soon find out.”
However, he and any other doubters that remain have swiftly been proven wrong, with the future so bright at the Emirates, with their club-record acquisition set to lead them into it.
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