Declan Rice: The game-changing midfielder Arsenal need for title challenge3 September 2023
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told a colourful tale about taking various routes into work every morning to illustrate his belief that every game tells a different story.
The Gunners' 3-1 win over Manchester United at Emirates Stadium had several plot twists in stoppage time alone, but one central character deserved his top billing as this chaotic game's headline act.
Arteta was reacting to suggestions he had started to over-complicate the strategies that had made Arsenal such impressive title challengers and long-time Premier League leaders last season before they cracked under relentless pressure from Manchester City at the final fences.
What is beyond dispute it that Declan Rice, at £105m from West Ham United, is the game-changing signing Arteta had in mind when he put such time and effort into the pursuit of his top summer transfer priority.
Rice was signed for games like this, moments like this, when Arsenal had been largely frustrated by Manchester United. They even thought they might suffer defeat until the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) ruled substitute Alejandro Garnacho had started his run just too early before scoring what he thought might be the winning goal in the 88th minute.
The 24-year-old Rice had been the game's outstanding performer, bringing composure and order to a game in which both sides seemed riddled with tension, falling short of the standards Arteta and United counterpart Erik ten Hag would normally expect.
Rice then made the decisive contribution deep into added time, lurking unattended at the far post at a corner and beating United keeper Andre Onana at the near one, via a slight but crucial deflection off substitute Jonny Evans.
Gabriel Jesus' solo goal - as a stunned United pushed for an equaliser - was a flourish that eased any late nerves.
But the Arsenal fans knew who was the driving force behind this win.
Big players deliver the big moments to decide the big games. Rice delivered on every level.
A thunderous roar swept around Emirates Stadium before it echoed to the new Rice anthem - a predictably re-worded rendition of Vanilla Ice's hit 'Ice Ice Baby'.
Rice took in the acclaim at the final whistle and once more when he appeared for post-match media duties. No-one has doubted the England man's playing ability or mental strength to deal with his huge price tag and greater expectations. This performance and victory provided the proof.
He could barely remove the beam from his face when he said: "Arsenal is a massive club and you feel the pressure but I try to put in performances.
"I am eager to learn and improve and we want to push to the next level. Everyone's been amazing. I like to have a laugh and speak to people and I've settled in well."
Arsenal certainly needed Rice to make the difference here because, for much of this game, they missed the fluency and pace that saw them set the pace for so long last season before that late collapse.
There were questions about Arteta's tinkering - especially the introduction and role of new signing Kai Havertz.
So this win not only settled nerves but sent Arsenal into the international break on a high when it looked like it could all be so different as they waited for the VAR verdict on Garnacho's strike.
Havertz does have his doubters among Arsenal's fanbase who question why Arteta felt the need to pay Chelsea £65m for a player who is talented but inconsistent, arguably an excessive luxury item in what had been a settled system.
None of those doubts went away here, though, as Havertz was anonymous apart from a horrendous early fresh air shot with the goal at his mercy.
Then when he went down under a challenge from Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the second half only to see a penalty, initially awarded by referee Anthony Taylor, chalked off by VAR.
Arterta has no such doubt, but it is fair to ask what Havertz's best role is in this Arsenal team and what he adds to the potent combinations of last season.
There is not a single question surrounding Rice.
Few players are a guarantee at £105m - an excessive fee admittedly but the result of market forces - but Rice is one and he has been demonstrating how significant he will be even as Arsenal's early-season form was tentative.
As for Manchester United, this was a chastening experience after Marcus Rashford gave them a 27th-minute lead only for Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard to equalise seconds later.
There was some hope in a bustling cameo from £72m striker Rasmus Hojlund on his debut, the 20-year-old putting himself about to good effect and suggesting he could be the physical presence and focal point United have sorely missed.
And there was a brutal reminder of their current reduced circumstances when injuries to Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez saw them end up with Harry Maguire, effectively an unwanted outcast under Ten Hag, and the 35-year-old emergency signing Jonny Evans manning the defensive barricades in those crucial closing phases.
The outburst of relief and celebration from Arsenal's fans at the conclusion was in sharp contrast to the despair in the corner of United supporters.
But Rice had shown why the Gunners paid the big bucks and it is certain there will be more instalments in future.
This news item was provided by the BBC Sport - Football website - the original link is: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/66703157?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA