Declan Rice and Rodri have the ability to join the Premier League's pantheon of great midfield rivalries, writes SAMI MOKBEL, as the pair are forced into a stalemate in Arsenal's draw with Man City


Echoes of Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane. Shades of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

Whether the latest chapter of enthralling Premier League midfield rivalries stands the test of time remains to be seen: but Rodri versus Declan Rice is brewing away just nicely.

Rarely out of each other’s eyeshot, neither giving an inch. Bruising and balletic in equal measure.

Rodri: Manchester City’s puppet master. Rice: Arsenal’s beating heart.

In an otherwise uninspiring clash, Declan Rice and Rodri's burgeoning rivalry was fascinating viewing in Arsenal's draw with Man City

In an otherwise uninspiring clash, Declan Rice and Rodri’s burgeoning rivalry was fascinating viewing in Arsenal’s draw with Man City 

The two midfielders are at the top of their respective games, and the action flowed through them

The two midfielders are at the top of their respective games, and the action flowed through them

This was an occasion that didn’t require over-hyping; although when we reflect on the 90 minutes this morning it will leave many of us unfulfilled.

But meshed within this intriguing, but rather placid, clash between, arguably, England’s best two sides emerged a compelling battle of wits between two supreme footballers at the top of their game.

Each going about their business in an irrepressible manner befitting of the occasion, if not the anti-climactic result.

Dishing out punishment, suffering their own blows – but somehow finding the fortitude to drive their team-mates forward.

Rodri nicked the ball off Rice’s toes to initiate a City attack; only for the Arsenal midfielder to race back to atone like his life depended on it.

Later, Rice burst through City’s lines with the energy and zest that has typified his season only to be faced with Rodri’s 6ft 3ins frame stopping him in his tracks.

Neither player accepting of defeat; personal or collective.

Statistically it appears the Spaniard had the greater impact on the game as he made the most touches of all 22 players

Statistically it appears the Spaniard had the greater impact on the game as he made the most touches of all 22 players

After the final whistle, with members of both teams on there haunches, the pair sought each other out and embraced.

Game recognises game – and both were looking strikingly familiar to one another.

The sort of respect boxers show each other after 12 rounds of brutality.

Eventually, the two protagonists separated from their clinch. They will rekindle their rivalry again; we should all look forward to that day.

Such is the nature of the modern world, there’ll be those who will want to compare and contrast Rodri and Rice’s respective performances and proclaim one as the superior player.

To that affect, a glance at the full-time stats suggests Rodri had the greater impact on this encounter; the Spaniard taking a staggering 144 touches, with a pass accuracy of 91 percent – significantly more than any other player on the pitch. Ruben Dias was second with 98 touches, with an accuracy of 92 percent.

In comparison, Rice took just 42 touches – eight less than William Saliba who accumulated the most for Arsenal.

But Rice’s contribution to Arsenal’s valiant point here at the Etihad was made up of immeasurables.

Guile and grit. Thrust and drive. Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the full story.

‘Playing against Declan Rice is like playing against a wall,’ commented former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit in his role as BBC pundit.

‘Opponents can kick him, they can hurt him. But he will play on until the end and he will stay strong mentally and physically.

‘He can suffer a lot but he will follow you always and for me this is the big difference between Arsenal of last season and Arsenal this season.’

Petit knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful in a Premier League winning midfield.

But the England international delivered in the intangibles, providing a much-needed physical presence for the visitors in midfield

But the England international delivered in the intangibles, providing a much-needed physical presence for the visitors in midfield

There’s a resilience to Arsenal that was, perhaps, lacking last term; Rice is the fulcrum of that newly-discovered durability.

On Sunday, Arsenal required every drop of that tenacity as Rodri ran the show.

There’s not much we can say about the City midfielder that hasn’t already been said.

You’ve got to be some player to stand out in this City team, but somehow Rodri sticks out like a sore thumb.

Guardiola calls Rodri his ‘lighthouse’. City’s conductor – their string-puller-in-chief.

An unerring composure with his back to goal. A relentless urge to pass the ball forward, but all with ease and comfort.

The last time Rodri played and Manchester City lost was in February 2023 – a stretch of over 60 matches.

The evidence is compelling. Already in the Premier League’s elite echelon of central midfielders.

Ask Keane, Viera, Gerrard or Lampard – they’d concur.

One day we may view Rodri as the very best to have graced English football. That isn’t an exaggeration.

The former West Ham star has been transformative for Mikel Arteta's side since arriving

The former West Ham star has been transformative for Mikel Arteta’s side since arriving

The success of both players serves as a kind of modern day incarnation of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira

Yet, with all that said, the fact Arsenal were able to keep City at bay in spite of Rodri’s influence represents their progress following a stalemate that ultimately failed to provide any defining clues as to where the title may end up.

On reflection, this was a good point for both. A draw at the Etihad is never to be sniffed at.

Equally, City, whose defence was depleted by the absence of John Stones, Kyle Walker and goalkeeper Ederson from their starting XI, while Nathan Ake was substituted with a muscular injury, may look at the result as an missed opportunity for Arsenal given their personnel problems.

The significance of it all will all come out in the wash in May.

The Arsenal star had been close to securing a move to the Etihad during the summer

The Arsenal star had been close to securing a move to the Etihad during the summer

But what simply isn’t up for debate is the brilliance of Rice and Rodri.

And to think, Guardiola had designs on pairing them together in City’s midfield this season.

Imagine a midfield triumvirate of Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri and Rice. It’s almost unsporting.

But City’s failed pursuit of Rice has become Arsenal’s gain. Not that City fans, with Rodri in tow, will be harbouring any feelings of regret.



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