Arsenal

Declan Rice influence becomes clearer as four Arsenal improvements on show in Wolves win

During a recent interview while on international duty, Declan Rice spoke of how it did not feel ‘normal’ to be a human being sold for £105million.

And he is right, of course. It is not normal. But in the abnormal world of football transfer fees, no club has spent that much money as wisely as Arsenal did when they signed Rice.

After 14 games of last season, Arsenal sat top of the table and will be in the same place when this weekend’s Premier League programme is finished. As a title-challenging force under Mikel Arteta, they are here to stay for a good while. There is absolutely no reason to doubt that.

But is there any reason why they can stay the course this season? There are a few – the manager is becoming more decisive and impressive, the players will have learned from their experience and they have a nice defensive solidity about them.

But the most persuasive reason? Rice, the £105million bargain. This victory was all about how Arteta’s side snapped so stylishly out of the blocks, scoring twice inside a quarter of an hour with a vibrancy that has probably been unmatched for a long time.

It was all about the under-appreciated job performed by Gabriel Jesus, a pivot for so much of Arsenal’s most threatening attacking phases. It was all about keeping concentration when having so much control – it was half an hour before David Raya touched the ball with his hands and Aaron Ramsdale’s dad could have played in goal during that spell.

It was about the classy contributions from scorers Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, whose left-footed finish gave a nice build-up a sweet ending. And it was about Rice. Despite Erling Haaland’s goals, there are plenty of Manchester City fans who would not have looked beyond Rodri as the most important figure in their Treble-winning season.

Any team that wants to be successful in this era needs a Rodri and it is impossible to ignore comparisons between City’s Spaniard and Arsenal’s Englishman.

For half an hour, Wolves could not get into opposition territory because Rice was on a one-man mission not to allow them to. The pressing levels of some of his more advanced team-mates dropped after that period, which allowed Gary O’Neil’s team to have some attacking joy.

But the frequency of Rice’s interventions was never anything other than regular. Vision on a football field is not just limited to passing and shooting – it is knowing when to step in and when not to step in, and more often than not, Rice gets that right.

But talking of passing, Rice showed he can hit long and short, clipped and raking, with either foot. His one failing in what was, eventually, a fraught win was an inability to hit the target with shooting opportunities from just outside the penalty area.

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