Man City vs Arsenal: Rodri faces Declan Rice in key midfield battle in the Premier League title race

Rodri and Declan Rice have been standout, irreplaceable players for Man City and Arsenal in midfield this season; the two will meet in a huge game for the title race on Super Sunday; watch Man City vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports this Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm

Image: Who will come out on top in the key midfield battle between Rodri and Declan Rice – as Man City host Arsenal, live on Sky Sports?

An integral position in the Pep Guardiola school of football is the ‘lighthouse’ role. It belongs to the holding midfielder who sits in the eye of the storm, keeping watch while chaos ensues around them.

“Guardiola tells me to be the coach on the field. He compares my position to that of a lighthouse,” said Rodri, explaining the role last season. “‘Don’t move, let everything revolve around you,’ he tells me.

“Sometimes it’s lonely.” Well, on Sunday, he’s in luck – as he won’t be the only ‘lighthouse’ on the pitch.

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When Arsenal signed Declan Rice last summer, Mikel Arteta used the exact same term to describe his £105m recruit. “He will light up and improve the others and make the team better,” said the Arsenal manager at the time.

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Earlier this season, Mikel Arteta said Declan Rice has ‘something else’ and described him as Arsenal’s ‘lighthouse’ since his arrival in the summer.

Arteta, a direct coaching descendant of Guardiola, recognised the need to have his own Rodri in the No 6 defensive midfield role. Arsenal took on City for the Premier League title last season and won nothing, as Guardiola and Rodri won everything. The Gunners were a ‘lighthouse’ light, so made Rice priority signing No 1 in the summer.

“Even when he was playing at West Ham, I had that feeling that this guy has got a presence that is unique, he has got something else,” Arteta told Sky Sports earlier this season. “I think the team needed something like that.”

Even Rice has admitted recently he is modelling his game on City’s Rodri this season. “The way the manager wants his No 6 to play, you look at the best No 6s in the world, Man City’s Rodri is arguably the best,” said Rice while on England duty this week.

And as City and Arsenal meet this Sunday in what is likely to be another title-race defining battle, live on Sky Sports, the two’ lighthouses’ are in the running for player of the season. And for good reason – as the waters both teams have embarked on this season cannot be crossed without their respective shining beacons.

Rodri’s impact at City has been long-standing and well documented. City have not lost in the Premier League for over a year with the Spanish midfielder in their team. Their only three league defeats this season have come when he was absent.

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Take a look at the best of Rodri so far this season as the Manchester City midfielder has once again been vital to Pep Guardiola’s side.

“He’s massively important for us,” Guardiola said of Rodri to Sky Sports earlier this season. “Without him, we could not do what we are doing.”

And Rice has been equally integral to Arsenal’s season, having started every single league game.

Rodri and Rice will follow each other around the Etihad Stadium pitch on Sunday afternoon but that is nothing new for these two, as both players have been following each other in the statistical charts all season.

Rodri is the Premier League’s pass master, with the Spaniard in a league of his own when it comes to bypassing defenders – and breaking the lines – by passing. In fact, Rodri is on course to reach record-breaking numbers in Premier League history in that category.

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Rice is therefore naturally behind Rodri in the passing statistics but the Arsenal midfielder does lead the way when it comes to bypassing opponents through carrying the ball.

But it is off the ball where Rice mainly excels over Rodri this season. Rice is the league’s midfield expert in intercepting the ball, with Rodri lagging behind, albeit still high up in the pecking order.

“It’s the way he reads the game,” Arteta said when asked what Rice’s biggest strength is. “His intelligence, his decision-making on and off the ball, when to pass the ball, how to pass it, where to look, how to execute, and the timing of that, which is very, very relevant, especially in his position.

“And then, there is the fact that he is able to read things before other players do, whether it’s in the middle of the pitch, or whether it’s in the opponent’s box. That is a big advantage.”

Rice’s impact has been transformative in the middle of the park for an Arsenal side who have improved in every department from last season. The England midfielder has played a major role in giving the Gunners more control in matches.

But while Rice is enjoying his role as a main player at Arsenal, City’s Guardiola prefers the limelight being taken away from Rodri.

“If holding midfielders started getting the recognition of Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne, we would have a problem,” the City boss, a former holding midfielder himself, said.

“The holding midfielder has to never, ever be in the highlights. He has to do the job he has to do. But the highlights have to belong to other people.”

And yet, Rice and Rodri still manage to have their moments in the spotlight. Both players go into Sunday’s game at the Etihad Stadium with six goals and five assists each in the Premier League. The comparisons never stop.

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In his debut season for Arsenal, we take a look at Declan Rice’s best bits from the midfielder’s stellar campaign in the Premier League.

There have been big moments in front of goal where they have stepped up for their team. Rodri – last season’s Champions League final match-winner, remember – has salvaged vital points with late goals against Sheffield United and twice against Chelsea this season.

Meanwhile Rice, who has three goals and three assists in his last five league games, has produced stoppage-time winners against Luton and Manchester United, plus a vital goal to start a comeback from 2-0 down away at Chelsea.

Rice’s goal threat is down to him playing in a slightly more advanced role this season. At times, he is used in the same sitting midfield role as Rodri – but more recently has played in a No 8 role and has been tasked with advancing into the box to score.

“I’ve said all along that my strongest position is No 6,” said Rice while with England this month. “That’s where I’ve built my career and where I feel most comfortable.

“But when Mikel says I’m going to play No 8, I’m really excited, I want to go forwards, score goals and drive with the ball.”

Not that it matters too much where the Arsenal midfielder turns out in midfield. “I think Declan Rice has shown he is a throwback to an all-rounder,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher.

“We define the roles of midfielders nowadays as, ‘he’s a holder, he’s an eight, he’s a 10’. He does it all. He can basically do it all in the different roles.”

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Thierry Henry and Jamie Carragher analyse Declan Rice’s more advanced position at Arsenal and his improved goal involvement numbers.

It is not too dissimilar from the way Guardiola speaks about Rodri: “He’s the best midfield player in the world currently by far because he is able to do everything.”

So while Rice and Rodri have to focus on controlling their own teams in a crucial game this Sunday, each may have an additional special task – to stop the other.

Watch Manchester City vs Arsenal in a huge Premier League title decider live on Sky Sports this Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm


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