Declan Rice has been able to significantly elevate his performance levels since his high-profile summer transfer to Arsenal from West Ham United. The Englishman earned criticism for being too overpriced after being roped in for a whopping £105m fee and he’s been a man on a mission to make every single doubter eat their words.
Rice faced one of the biggest challenges in his short Arsenal career so far in their intense 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield just before Christmas. Even though the Gunners took an early lead through Gabriel Magalhaes’ goal, they were put under heavy pressure from the constant barrage of attacking moves from their opposition.
To his credit, the Englishman did not let the challenging atmosphere or unrelenting attacks rattle him. He ended up thriving under the pressure and shining bright like a diamond. Rice was one of Arsenal’s best players in the game and played a key role in protecting his backline from trouble, acting in a defensive midfielder cum centre-back role.
The England international frustrated the Reds with his diligent challenges and game-reading ability, making nine possession recoveries, five clearances and two tackles in a performance that was hailed as “phenomenal” by Mikel Arteta.
However, one moment involving Rice in the Liverpool game has been going viral because of how he was able to show nerves of steel rather than losing his composure. In the second half, Arsenal committed too many players into the Liverpool half during a corner in the hunt for a second goal.
That ended up blowing in their faces as the clinical Liverpool side were able to turn from defence to attack in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, Mohamed Salah led a rapid transition that saw five Liverpool players – Darwin Nunenz, Harvey Elliott, Ryan Gravenberch and Trent Alexander-Arnold – march on through to the Arsenal goal alongside him.
At one moment, it appeared that David Raya was left to fend for himself in his half. However, Rice was the only Arsenal player who decided to stay back and he was left to defend all alone against five Liverpool players.
Some say Declan Rice did nothing? Ran backwards at full speed for 1/2 pitch. Monitored 5 players but kept right knowing risk was Salah's left foot. FORCED Salah to pass right (see Rice's stutter) switched & pressured a first time off shot. And did not fall down! #LIVARS #Arsenal pic.twitter.com/AtQKwdZrCT— Cole Lam (@ColeLam2007) December 23, 2023
To his credit, Rice did not commit to any tackle and just tracked back into his box to make it as difficult as possible for the opponents to score. In the end, his trick ended up working as Salah was forced to pass it to Trent Alexander-Arnold inside the box and the right-back smashed the ball onto the bar. Arsenal were ultimately bailed out by not only the goal-post but also partly through Rice’s smart decision-making too.
The Arsenal midfielder has received a lot of praise for his courageous defensive display and for standing his ground against five attacking players at that moment.
Rice’s moment of bravery has even been compared to the iconic scene from the hit TV show ‘Game of Thrones’ where the character of Jon Snow decides to stand his ground and try to fight against a horde of blood-thirst opposition soldiers charging at him on horseback in the ‘Battle of Bastards’ episode.
Snow showcases the heart of a warrior in standing up to the overwhelming odds of having to face a bunch of opponents all on his own and Rice showed similar signs of a ‘never stand down’ attitude by standing his ground against so many Liverpool players all by himself.
While Liverpool have been criticized for not being able to finish off that move emphatically, the presence of Rice not backing down probably worked as a case of reverse psychology to make Trent & co nervous just before his over-hit shot.
It’s also moments of courage like this which prove how hungry the Englishman is to succeed in the biggest occasions for the Gunners. Rice has been among Arsenal’s best performers in every big game this season and continues to be an exemplary figure with his never-give-up attitude.