LONDON – Arsenal paid big money to sign Declan Rice for a reason.
Indeed, it wasn’t initially for him to score, but then again, the £105million man has made it a personal goal to improve his end product, and Sunday’s 3-1 win over Manchester United was a great way to start. ..
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Rice’s first Gunners goal came in the sixth minute of added time and with the scores level at 1-1, Andre Onana’s deflected shot inside the near post sent the Emirates Stadium into jubilation. The game went on a knife-edge after Martin Odegaard’s first-half opener for United, Marcus Rashford’s substitute Alejandro Garnacho, was ruled out for what would have been a narrow — but correct — winner on VAR review for offside in the 88th minute.
Yet Rice turned the game decisively in Arsenal’s favour, before Gabriel Jesus added a third deep into stoppage time to seal the joy associated with a title race not far from the start of September. Arsenal are often criticized for over-celebrating, but the explanation here is simple. Of course, an opponent — an old opponent — makes victory sweeter but keeping pace with Manchester City requires more immediate relevance, an admittedly absurd premise at first glance given the Premier League season is only four games old.
Arsenal reached 50 points at the halfway stage last season and failed to win the title — City repeatedly extended that margin for error smaller than ever, and went into the first international break with a possible 12 to 10 points — two behind City — a boost for Arsenal’s confidence. significant increase.
Rice was acquired from West Ham at great cost to fill the gap and his all-round display proved to be the match-winning contribution in the end. Could this be the first of many goals from their new midfield man?
“For sure, when you see his technical ability and how he’s executed at the moment,” said Gunners boss Mikel Arteta. “His range of shooting accuracy and the power he creates with no space, with both feet, he can do it with both feet. He also has timing in the box. Position will dictate a lot of that because it’s about how you come into the box. He’s got the power to do it, that’s for sure.
“When you see how a holding midfielder has to dominate his area, how he has to break up play, how he brings the team together by stretching them out a bit. Then he creates a moment of magic to win us the game, so, really happy with him. “
It also led to Rice’s drive forward which beat Kai Havertz again in general, going down in the box for a penalty on VAR review, as he looked to change an unusually cautious first half from the home side.
Arsenal had only 45 percent possession in the first half. They usually dominate the opposition on their own turf — barring Brighton’s deserved win here in May, when they took control of proceedings in impressive fashion — and no team has enjoyed more of the ball in the opening 45 minutes since January 2022. The opposition that day was also United, a clear sign that Arteta is instinctively wary of the counter-attacking threat Rashford displayed ruthlessly again on Sunday.
“We talked about the first goal we conceded, if you lose the ball in the first two passes after you get it back, you’re kaput,” Arteta said. “We did it again.”
Rice won four of his five duels and three aerial challenges, recovering the ball a total of five times. But more than that, he helped Arsenal play more on the front foot in the second half — finishing with 55 per cent possession overall but, more significantly, making Bukayo Saka guilty of missing their best when heading clear nine minutes from time. The end.
United will rue the fine margin of Garnacho’s disallowed goal and fail to capitalize on a promising cameo from their own big-money summer signing, the £72m Rasmus Hjlund, who posed a more potent threat to the visitors than Anthony Martial when he was introduced on perhaps 67 minutes. There’s more to come from him, but it was a damning indictment of United’s summer window that they ended the game with 35-year-old Jonny Evans and Harry Maguire at centre-back, while Sofiane Amrabat wasn’t ready to play. all
In mitigation, United’s centre-backs have suffered badly with injuries, with Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelof forced to join Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw. Yet re-signing Evans and using Maguire, who they had been desperate to offload all summer and was actually cheered by Arsenal fans at his introduction, highlighted a lack of prudent squad planning, as did acquiring Ambarat so late in the window, when he was set to leave Fiorentina in July. If the prepared clubs agree to pay the fee.
Already, it once again looks like United are some distance from closing the gap on City, with both of these teams targeting but Arsenal far more equipped to play. They have yet to fully convince in any game this season, it must be said, but the Gunners have found a way to win three of their four games and, on Sunday, produced a club-record bye margin.
As Arteta said: “Big matches are for big players, and Rice was fantastic.”