Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Arsenal Trial Declan Rice at Center-Back

Arsenal trialed Declan Rice at right center-back for 30 minutes to rest William Saliba, and he looked as good as I thought he would. Having his passing ability paired with quickness and awareness at center-back is unfair. Game-changing.

Figure 1.1 - Declan Rice is on the wrong side of the forward.
Figure 1.2 - Declan Rice crosses over the ball to show the ball carrier to the corner.
Figure 1.3 - Declan Rice gets caught on his front foot, allowing the ball carrier to turn and shoot.

Rice has world-class awareness. As a defender, his head is always on a swivel. His anticipation is above the level of the defenders around him, and his long strides allow him to catch up with almost any attacker.

That paired with the fact that he really doesn’t have a weak foot would make him one of the most versatile ball playing center-backs in world football.

Figure 1.4 - Declan Rice blocks the shot with his toe.
Figure 1.5 - Shot hits the post.

He can time tackles and blocks to the left leading with his stronger right foot, just as well as the right when he leads with his weak foot.

Figure 2.1 - Declan Rice switches play to Leandro Trossard.
Figure 2.2 - Leandro Trossard receives the ball.

No one in this Arsenal team can pick out a pass with a high level of consistency and accuracy, with the amount of pace he puts on the ball, like Declan Rice can. He does not put a pass wrong. They all can float a pass over and switch, but no one can ping a ball cross field to Trossard and guarantee it will work 9 times out of 10.

Figure 3.1 - Declan Rice switches the ball for West Ham to Bowen, who's unmarked.

This was apparent during his time at West Ham. Having that at the back to spread the opponent’s back-line, and unlock the half-space, is a cheat code. Look how open Kai Havertz is in that example in the left half-space.

Figure 4.1 - Declan Rice collects the ball deep in Arsenal's half with progressive passing options.

The opponent can not press this because he can pick out anyone here. The moment he gets the ball, the opponent has to back off. They know he can drop a dime to anyone on the pitch. The passes are sharp and crisp. Then he has the carrying ability to run past their front-line, into space.

Figure 4.2 - Gabriel attempts a pass central.
Figure 4.3 - Ball is overhit and is collected by the opponent.

Pass it to Gabriel or Kiwior, you might get a misplaced pass, like this one. Not as much of a sure thing.

Figure 5.1 - Ball is played towards Arsenal's back-line and Gabriel misses the ball.
Figure 5.2 - Declan Rice races over to challenge the ball carrier.
Figure 5.3 - Declan Rice blocks off the pass to the penalty spot, directing Jakub Kiwior to cover that space, so he can attempt to block the shot.

He can cover a large amount of ground, but then that awareness again, to block off the pass to the penalty spot. He’s always directing the other defenders where to be, lots of communication.

Figure 5.4 - Jakub Kiwior cuts off the pass and Declan Rice attempts to block the shot.

And then he sticks out one of his long legs to perfectly block the shot.

This entire package at the back is unfair to other teams.

Figure 6.1 - A proposed Arsenal lineup from August 21, 2023. Declan Rice attacking zone 13.

I have thought since last season that Declan Rice should be played at left center-back ahead of Gabriel, once Thomas Partey comes back from injury. He moves too much to play as a 6. His skillset can be better used to attack the wings, zone 13. I went into more detail in this post about why I think Declan Rice would be better at left center-back.

Declan Rice shouldn’t start over Saliba on the right because, one, Saliba is too good to not start, two, Ben White blocks Rice from attacking the wing, and three, he performs better as an aggressive dribbler when he can lead with his stronger right leg. Similar to Kim Min-Jae; a right-footed player who looks better on the left.

Lead with the stronger foot into tackles, shield the ball with the stronger leg as you carry down the wing, switch with the right foot.

If Rice plays on the left, when Zinchenko inverts from left-back, he will have the entire wing to himself. Then when he carries forward, he can work that triangle with Martinelli, Zinchenko, and Havertz. Overload of Ødegaard, Saka, and White on the right, and Rice, Zinchenko, Havertz, and Martinelli on the left.

Rice has the ability to cover a large distance, switch play to Saka and Ødegaard.

Figure 7.1 - Comparing the triangle Manchester City create with Manuel Akanji at left center-back to the triangle Arsenal create with Declan Rice.
Figure 7.2 - Nathan Ake switches the ball across field from left center-back

Think of how Manchester City use their outside center-backs on the left, Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake. They are constantly making runs forward. Same concept.

Figure 8.1 - Jakub Kiwior with loads of space on the left-wing.

You want Rice attacking the space Kiwior has to attack in the picture above. Then he can collect the ball and switch if needed, or cross.

Mikel Arteta:

“We are very short at the back, I really wanted to try when something happens, how we are going to resolve that situation and I think it was really good.

He played there before and we have to try in case of an emergency.  I will have to make sure that we can fill the gap in the right way.”

He says it was to try “in case of emergency” but this is the same guy that said there was a competition for the #1 spot in goal. His hairline may be perfect but we can see through you, Mikel. The dynamic works too well to not try it again for fun.

Match: PSV 1-1 Arsenal, 12 December 2023

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