Declan Rice adds steel to Arsenal’s style to let Mikel Arteta flow

Estimated read time 5 min read
Declan Rice - Declan Rice adds steel to Arsenal's style to let Mikel Arteta flow
Declan Rice has shown why Arsenal paid £100m for a wall display at Selhurst Park – Action Photos via REUTERS/Andrew Bowers

Two wins from two points and six from six points, and Arsenal are not at their best yet. In fact, they are not close to it. This trip is to the Crystal Palace Instead, it was a night for teeth grinding and line-holding, especially after Takehiro Tomiyasu’s red card left 10 players short of the home side’s 11-man squad and 25,000 fans.

There will be occasions this season when Mikel Arteta’s side will unpick their opponents like professional locksmiths. These displays will look beautiful, and Arsenal players will enjoy every moment of it. This was the opposite kind of night, with defensive flexibility the key after Martin Odegaard’s penalty in the second half gave Arsenal the lead.

For Arsenal, maintaining that advantage, after half an hour playing with 10 men, would be a great relief for Arteta and his players. If they hope to challenge Manchester City again, they won’t be able to win every game in style. Sometimes this league takes steel, and Arsenal have shown it here. “I loved him,” said Arteta. “I sure loved him.”

Would it be different if Michael Ulis was available at Palace? He would certainly have helped the creativity of the local side. The lack of freshness in attack could be a regular problem for Roy Hodgson this season, as the post-Wilfried Zaha era begins in south London. The more they press for an equalizer against a wall of Arsenal defenders, the less likely they are to score.

Toughness has rarely been a strength for Arsenal over the years, but here they looked tough, powerful and aggressive throughout. In the second half, after Tomiyasu received a controversial second yellow card, the indefatigable defensive resistance was led by Declan Rice, who slotted in tackles and sealed up spaces all over the field.

Arsenal defense against Crystal Palace

There’s no escaping the past – even as a 10-man Arsenal side made life difficult for Crystal Palace’s attack – PA/John Walton

Odegaard provided a captain’s goal and Reis provided real leadership behind him in midfield. A club record signing is bought for his technical quality but also for moments like this, when his team needs energy, strength and the most precious quality in football: courage. In the end, Rice clapped his fists and pointed his arms toward the away supporters. They roared back. This relationship is developing rapidly.

Did Arsenal fans see why the club considered Rice to be worth more than £100m? “Hopefully we’ll see a little bit,” said Arteta. “I think he was great. He was leading the midfield. I think he controlled the game. He was very influential both in attack and in defence.”

Speaking to Sky Sports after the final whistle, Rice said: “Before the game tonight, I was on my way to the game and I just thought: ‘Just go out there and have fun tonight.'” Just go out there and try to make an offer.

“Even in the warm-up I just felt the energy – I wanted to go out there and perform. I was really up for it. Only two games, there’s a lot of talk about the price playing for Arsenal, and I want to keep proving people wrong and proving I can play at the top.” “.

Arteta has more options at his disposal now than at any other time in his coaching career, and as Arsenal kept their defensive form for the final half hour, it was amazing to see how physical his side turned out to be. “If we have to play the game and be physical, we are very capable of doing that,” said Arteta.

Arsenal’s defense for those last moments included: Thomas Partey, William Saliba, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes, Jacob Keewor, Rice. All six of these players are over six feet tall, and all six are capable of dominating their opponents in physical duels. Palace continued to cross the ball, and Arsenal continued to clear it. Saliba was particularly dominant, making eight catches through the night.

William Saliba

William Saliba was dominant in defense on a night when Arsenal proved they could roll up their sleeves as well as put on a show – Getty Images / Stuart MacFarlane

“We have to give Arsenal credit,” Hodgson said. “For their defensive organization and the fact that they defended crosses very well, getting blocks when it was necessary.”

There was some surprise that Odegaard stepped up from the penalty spot in the second half, after Eddie Nketiah was fouled by Palace goalkeeper Sam Johnston, instead of usual goalkeeper Bukayo Saka. Arteta himself was shocked, saying he had “no evidence” Odegaard would take it. “It’s about leading the players,” said Arteta. “If they feel it’s the right thing to do, I don’t mind.”

He would be less pleased with his team’s first-half shots, when his two points were particularly wasteful. The striker is often described as an excellent goalscorer who doesn’t give enough in general play, but on this occasion the opposite was true. First, he hit the post, when it was one-on-one, and then somehow dribbled the ball over the crossbar from close range.

Tomiyasu’s first yellow was for wasting time, which was far from clever. It was the second time he had picked up Jordan Ayew’s shirt, which replays indicated was non-existent. Harsh, sure, but the palace couldn’t take advantage of it. When Hodgson’s team tried to push on, it seemed they ran out of ideas before time ran out.

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