Football Features

Playmaker Declan Rice is rising to the occasion with title-chasing Arsenal

By Will Evans | Twenty3

Published: 9:30, 8 May 2024

Declan Rice’s playmaking prowess is turbo-charging Arsenal’s title bid.

The Gunners have won four league games on the bounce, as they look to pip Manchester City to top spot.

And their No.41 has been key to that hot streak, contributing a goal and three assists across those fixtures.

With a crunch clash against Manchester United looming, we analyse Rice’s increasing influence on Arsenal’s attack.

Positional shift

Arsenal have won an impressive 14 of their 16 top-flight games since January — only dropping points in a draw against Man City and defeat to Aston Villa. And utilising Rice in a more advanced position has been a crucial development.

The 25-year-old played 1,552 of his 1,744 league minutes in a defensive midfield role during the first half of the campaign, but has featured in central midfield for 787 of 1,306 minutes in 2024.

The results speak for themselves, with Rice registering 11 goal contributions this year (four goals and seven assists), compared with just four (three goals and one assist) from August to December.

In fact, only Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne (8) has provided more assists than the England international over that period.

Quality not quantity

Rice was seeing significantly more of the ball during the campaign’s early stages, but he is using it to greater effect in recent months.

Although he is attempting and completing far fewer passes per match, Rice’s chance creation numbers have shot up — from 0.77 per 90 minutes before Christmas, to 2.0 per 90 in 2024.

It’s a similar story with big chances created, too, which has risen from just 0.1 per 90 to a much healthier 0.41 per 90.

This is, in part, because Rice is crossing the ball far more.

He attempted just 0.52 crosses per 90 up until December, but that has climbed to an eye-catching 3.1 per 90 since the turn of the year.

More to come?

Rice’s heat map from Arsenal’s last four matches (as seen below) reflects a player who is becoming increasingly comfortable operating in advanced areas.

He has spent significant time inside the opposition half on the left flank, which contrasts with his more typical positioning — slightly deeper in the centre of the park.

And Mikel Arteta’s outfit are reaping the rewards from this adjustment.

Not only has Rice scored once and provided three assists, but the defensive side of his game remains as strong as ever.

The midfielder has made 3.75 tackles per 90, for example, which is above his season average of 2.33 per game.

With Rice excelling in the final third during recent weeks, expect him to continue playing a key attacking role in Arsenal’s final fixtures.