Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Declan Rice outside of Jurrien Timber for Arsenal

August 3, 2023 — Declan Rice played a wider role for Arsenal yesterday outside of left-back Jurrien Timber, and it better suited his style of play.

Figure 1.1 - Jurrien Timber passes wide as Declan Rice runs forward.

Jurrien Timber would invert from left-back far infield which allowed Declan Rice to move outside of him. When he moved outside, that opened up triangles between him, Timber, Thomas Partey, and Gabriel Martinelli.

Figure 1.2 - Declan Rice attacks the left half-space waiting for the pass.

This played to Rice’s strengths. Work the ball wide and then let Declan attack the half-space by underlapping or overlapping Martinelli.

Figure 2.1 - Declan Rice moves wide to complete the triangle.

When Rice moves wide, his hips are open; he has the option to go down the line to Martinelli or back to Timber. He can receive the ball and has the room ahead of him to switch play to the other side.

This is where he thrives. Give him options to play progressive passes and attack space at speed.

Figure 3.1 - Arsenal out of possession with Declan Rice zonal marking in the left half-space.

Rice is a proficient tackler and liked to sit just in front of the back-line at West Ham. Here he’s playing a more similar role. Patrol the left half-space.

Figure 3.2 - Jurrien Timber goes out to challenge the ball carrier, and Declan Rice marks the man running behind Timber.

Once the sea parts and the half-space is open, Rice, the expert at defending the half-space, can zero in on his marker.

Figure 3.3 - Declan Rice follows his man and blocks the pass.

And then he can use his large frame to block crosses or make the interception look easy.

Figure 4.1 - Jurrien Timber gets forward, and Declan Rice fills in at left-back.

Rice moving outside means that Timber can attack the half-space. But that triangle always needs to remain intact between him, Partey, and Timber, so Rice has to move back to cover the space Timber occupied.

Figure 5.1 - Declan Rice receives the ball inside of Jurrien Timber.

Rice has a tendency to be a bit awkward receiving the ball like this in the half-space. This is why he needs space to open his hips when he has his back to goal because when he rotates as the ball bobbles, his control isn’t smooth, which allows the defender curving their run to close him down.

Notice how he’s inside of Timber now. The pass to Martinelli and Timber is blocked off from the cover shadow of the two Monaco players. The only open pass is to Thomas Partey.

When he’s outside of Timber, he can open his hips before receiving the ball and doesn’t need to rotate with his first touch.

Figure 6.1 - Jurrien Timber advances well infield, and Declan Rice moves wide, but there's no outlet ahead of the triangle to play through the middle.

The problem with this setup is that there’s rarely ever an outlet ahead of Rice or Partey to advance the ball. Last season Granit Xhaka would normally only operate inside the half-space and would not move wide, offering an outlet if the ball were to be played wide to the left-wing. Now with Rice wide, there is no outlet inside the half-space for the left-wing.

Declan Rice at West Ham was ‘the man’. He had to be the center of everything because he was the past passer, best progressive dribbler, best balling midfielder, the best player. For that reason, playing him as the holding midfielder made sense. Build everything around Rice. Give Rice the ball.

Now he’s entered an Arsenal squad filled with talent, and he can be given a more specialized role that puts a spotlight on his weaknesses.

Figure 7.1 - 3-4-3 diamond depth chart with Jurrien Timber inverted from left-back and Declan Rice at left center-back.

This change to have Declan Rice wide aligns with some of the ideas I’ve mentioned in the recent “Arsenal’s £65m question” post.

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