Howdy folks from the Southern hemisphere. Hope you guys are all doing well?
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while so thought given that we’re in the middle of the tedium that is the international break, I’d pen some thoughts about our £100million man Declan Rice, who by now we all absolute adore and are thank our lucky stars that Mikel was so forceful in his desire to get him in to the club in the summer. We can all see why now, because as we all know, he has been absolutely immense for us and at times it has felt like he’s carried the team on his back with his performances.
And it is because of some of those performances that I thought i’d drop in that slightly provocative title, because I’ve been thinking for a while who our most important player is at the club right now. Who is the player that above all I think we would struggle the most without? Who is the guy with whom we would see the biggest drop off from the team?
And the best news of all is that this is a more difficult question to answer than perhaps three or four years ago. It speaks volumes to the levels that this team has raised in itself thanks to Mikel, Edu and some of the performances we’ve seen; there has been such a steady growth in the side that this question could legitimately include multiple candidates that you could argue for. So I thought I’d drop in some words with my perspective.
For example, some might think that Saka is the one player we couldn’t do without and certainly there is an argument for that. He’s picking up goals and assists left, right and centre this season, despite most of us acknowledging that he probably hasn’t been at his best this season. He’s being doubled up by teams on that right flank, he’s constantly booted about the place when he comes up against defenders who don’t have the ability to beat him by legitimate means, so they have to do it illegally. We all love him; he’s our Starboy and anybody who wants to argue he’s the one we don’t want to lose above all and I think that’s fair enough to argue, but with Saka my only counter point would be not him, but would be the other players we have that could replace him. Now, I know there is no option that could really replace Saka fully, but the difference in quality – the drop off – between Saka and the next guy, compared to Rice and the next guy – is the reason why I would say that Rice is more important to us right now as it stands. If we lose Saka, we have Trossard, Gabriel Jesus (eventually), we could play Fabio Vieira, etc. So we have options.
With Declan Rice the drop off feels quite significant. If we lose Rice now, who is going to be that engine in the middle of the pitch? Elneny? I don’t think so. Jorginho has been playing well, but he doesn’t cover the same ground or offer us the same defensive safety that Rice does. His ability to win duels is unmatched in our team and if we were playing tomorrow and we had Rice out, our midfield three would probably be Odegaard, Havertz and Jorginho and we saw with the West Ham game that there is no bite in that midfield when Rice isn’t there.
And with Partey out for the foreseeable future, it does feel as though our reliance on Rice is even more amplified. With Partey out we simply can’t afford to lose Declan Rice in this team and that is why I think he is – certainly at this point in time – our most important player. Now, if we get Partey back in December, if we start to get a fully fit squad for the first bloody time this season, then perhaps my thinking will change. perhaps then it will be Bukayo Saka, or Gabriel Jesus, who in his absence and with our reliance on Eddie or Havertz up top (not that we’ve seen that too much to be fair) has shown just how much we miss him as the central striker in our three-pronged attack. But at this moment in time, with the team shaping up as it is with injuries, suspensions, etc, then I can’t see anyone else as more important that Declan in that midfield.
He’s just a phenomenal footballer. £100million is a ridiculous amount of money to spend, but the only time people mention it is to confirm that nobody is actually talking about it! His acclimitisation period has been next to nothing. He came in for a few friendlies in the summer and bang! He was away and performing with us. And at both ends of the pitch too, with that goal against United effectively winning it for us, although of course Gabriel Jesus added a gloss to the final result. But it was that goal that really sealed the deal deep in to stoppage time and in a game that at one point felt that we were going to get utterly skanked by an undeserving Man United.
Declan Rice adds a steel to this Arsenal team that we lacked last season. We’ve all talked about how we haven’t been playing amazing, but what we have been doing is keeping the back door shut and I bet if you asked Gabriel and Saliba how much of an impact he has made for them and their ability to keep out the goals and I’ll be they’ll tell you that he has been integral. I think I’ve said this before, but the way he wins the ball back, his ability to win ground duels and come away with it whilst still on his feet, is massive. From a technical point of view it is so important in transitioning from defence to attack. Picture this scenario: An attacker is dribbling with the ball and your midfielder goes to ground, wins a slide tackle, we all roar as fans. It looks good, it sounds good, but if he’s on the floor and he’s won the ball, there are a lot of times in which a player will rely on other players to mop up the pieces. Now picture that same player winning the ball whilst still on his feet. He is able to change direction, he saves that extra second or two in physically getting up, so that means he can distribute the ball a few seconds quicker. In elite sport where marginal gains are so important, seconds matter, because they are priceless when an opposing team is trying to set their defensive positions and body shape. So we have ourselves a guy who can literally turn a moment of potential weakness (defending without the ball) in to a strength (hitting teams more quickly in transition).
He’s so valuable to us, he has been so good so quickly and that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is why I see him as Arsenal’s more important footballer.
What do you think?