Man City v Arsenal: Declan Rice ready for key role to stop midfield metronome Rodri in title showdown

Man City v Arsenal: Declan Rice ready for key role to stop midfield metronome Rodri in title showdown

Declan Rice is an avid collector of football shirts and has several Manchester City ones hanging from the walls in his house.

Rice has framed shirts of City greats including David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero after swapping tops with them following games down the years.

One suspects the Arsenal midfielder will have another shirt to add to his collection after he does battle with Rodri in Sunday’s title showdown at the Etihad.

The pair have been two of the best midfielders in the Premier League this season and their head-to-head duel could well be key to the outcome of the match.

Rice considers Rodri the best holding midfielder in the world and, after his winner in the Champions League Final sealed the Treble last season, his importance to City has been further underlined this season.

Pep Guardiola’s side have lost just four times and Rodri was absent on every occasion. He is unbeaten in his past 62 matches for City, an incredible run stretching back to February last year.

“You look at the best No6s in the world… Man City, Rodri [is] arguably the best,” said Rice on England duty this week. “How he plays, how he’s always central, how he always connects between the backline and the forward players, how he’s always in the middle of the pitch, you’re always trying to learn and be that main player.”

Rice’s admiration for Rodri is clear but he himself has taken his game to a new level at Arsenal this season and his influence on games is on the same level as the City man.

Rodri has made more tackles than any other City player in the Premier League this season and it is the same for Rice at Arsenal. Rice is also top of the charts for the Gunners in interceptions.

“If I had to describe him with a picture, it would be a lighthouse. This is how I see him,” Mikel Arteta said of Rice last month. “When I was envisioning the squad, how can I explain him? How can I see him in the team? His pressing, he’s overlooking everything, he’s bringing light and clarity and guidance for everybody.”

Rice spent the first half of this season playing as No6 but more recently he has been pushed further forward and is enjoying his most prolific season to date, having chipped in with six goals and six assists in all competitions.

Not to be outdone, Rodri is also enjoying his best season in front of goal for City. He is their fifth top scorer with seven goals in all competitions and also has eight assists.

“The amount of things he helps to do, he is irreplaceable right now, I would say,” said Guardiola last month.

Signing Rice in the summer was a major boost for Arsenal and a sliding doors moment for their project under Arteta. City were also chasing him and made a bid of £90million in June.

Arsenal ultimately won the race for Rice after agreeing a £105m deal with West Ham and it cannot be understated how important that was for the Gunners. Just one point separates Arsenal, Liverpool and City at the top of the table, but if Guardiola’s side were able to field a team with Rodri and Rice then they would surely be out of sight.

Arsenal have not won at the Etihad since 2015 and if they are to end that run this weekend, then stopping Rodri will be key. He is City’s heartbeat and everything goes through him. No player has made more passes in the Premier League this season, despite him missing three games through suspension.

It is why Arteta may look to persist with Rice in a role further forward. If Arsenal are to stop Rodri then they need to do so at source, and no one is better at pressing high up the pitch than the man who captained England last night.