For about 30 seconds, Arsenal were staring at their first defeat of the season.
Then, when Alejandro Garnacho’s goal was ruled out for offside, everything changed.
The feeling of dejection that had swept around the Emirates when Manchester United thought they had snatched all the three points on Sunday afternoon was replaced by a sense of renewed optimism.
With a large chunk of injury time to be played, there was still about 10 minutes remaining. Arsenal needed someone to stand up and win them a game they had largely dominated, without looking overly threatening.
Step forward Declan Rice…….
Arsenal’s £105 million summer signing had been the best player on the pitch by some distance so it felt almost fitting when Bukayo Saka’s deep corner fell out of the sky towards him at the back post.
Rice still had a fair bit to do and he did get a bit of luck when his shot took a deflection off Jonny Evans and beat Andre Onana, but the midfielder deserved that slice of good fortune.
He had been outstanding all afternoon and if anyone deserved to be the match winner, it was him.
Gabriel Jesus did of course go on to put the cherry on the cake for Arsenal with that wonderful breakaway goal soon after, but it was Rice who was the hero for Mikel Arteta’s side as they made it 10 points from 12 to start the season.
“He was outstanding,” said the Arsenal boss. “But the whole team was as well. Rice gave us the momentum in the moments the team needed it. It is a beautiful thing how these turn around and we won the game.
“We have been so dominant. Against Fulham, it was a similar story. The team deserves more. When I see a team with that will to win, the eagerness to go and go, it is beautiful.”
This was a big big win for Arsenal. After the disappointment of throwing two points away against Fulham last weekend, they needed to respond quickly.
As has been the way so far this season, they weren’t at their best, but they got the job done against a very disappointing United side.
Erik ten Hag’s long list of complaints after the game were a clear tactic to try and deflect away from another toothless display from his team away from home.
United played like a team threatened by relegation, rather than a team with hopes of competing towards the top of the table. There was no ambition and – Marcus Rashford aside – no real quality.
They deserved nothing from the game and – thanks to Declan Rice – that’s exactly what they got.
Clearly, Arsenal still have plenty of room for improvement.
Kai Havertz continues to underwhelm and Arteta has to find a way of getting more out of a player who looks horribly short of confidence and belief right now.
Bukayo Saka also looks way off the pace and he would have been as relieved as anyone when Rice struck late on, having wasted a glorious chance about 10 minutes earlier to put Arsenal 2-1 in front.
Absolute scenes!!— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) September 3, 2023
Yeah, I’ve missed sitting (standing) here ❤️ pic.twitter.com/dEe6gAdQ2B
But despite the obvious need for improvement, Arsenal have won three of their opening four league games and also beaten Manchester City to lift the Community Shield. So there are also plenty of reasons to feel positive.
And at the top of that list are the performances of Declan Rice.
The absence of an injured Thomas Partey would usually have been viewed as a nightmare in games as big as Sunday, but now it is no big deal.
In Rice, Arteta’s side now have a genuine world class player in the heart of midfield. One who has the ability and potential to take this team to the next level.
While players like Havertz and the woeful Antony continued to struggle to justify their hefty price tags on Sunday, Rice looked every bit the £105m footballer.
It was a fabulous display from a fabulous player and another example that Arsenal’s record outlay was money well spent….
Right, keep an eye out for your usual Inside Arsenal episode from me later on today reflecting on yesterday’s dramatic win.
Then myself and James Benge will be back with an Inside Arsenal extra-time show at some point tomorrow.
Enjoy your Monday everyone.