Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Rice to captain England, talks about Ben White + Saliba/Deschamps

Morning, it’s quite a busy one despite the Interlull, so let’s start with the fact that Declan Rice will captain England tonight as they face Belgium in a friendly.

It’s obviously a bit annoying for Arsenal fans that he’s going to be involved in a meaningless game, and will probably play the full 90 minutes, but it’s something he clearly relishes, and all we can do is congratulate England for giving the armband to a man who has three full caps for Ireland.

In seriousness though, Rice was then asked about Ben White, and spoke about his Gunners teammate, saying:

Ben is such a good guy and he is an unbelievable footballer. It is hard to know really what is going on but he has made his decision and he doesn’t want to play for England at this moment in time.

Of course he knows, and everybody close to the England set-up knows, even if some senior reporters have churned out some pretty disingenuous stuff over the last ten days or so. It’s obvious that Ben White’s issue isn’t with England per se, it’s Gareth Southgate’s England or, more specifically, one member of Gareth Southgate’s staff. That it’s been framed as him turning his back on his nation is sadly typical of the way the press and social media operates these days, but it’s not remotely the full picture. But at least it gives people an excuse to get outraged about something as they ignore stuff they should be really angry about.

Where Rice is spot on though is the fact England are without a player who is both high quality and versatile. He continued:

He’s a really unique player because he can play three positions. In tournaments that’s so key. He can play centre-back, he can play right-back, he can play inverted full-back.

There’s a lot of chat about how the competition at right-back means Ben White wouldn’t play, which ignores the fact he’s also an accomplished centre-half, and when it comes right down to it, he’s a better player than someone like Harry Maguire who gets picked regardless of form and quality. I don’t think Rice will be able to change his mind when it comes to this summer’s tournament, but assuming the FA and others behind the scenes haven’t burned bridges with White during this fiasco, it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he returned when Southgate’s time was over and Steve Holland is scratching around for a job somewhere.

Meanwhile, another of our key players, William Saliba, was on the end of some very strange comments from France manager Didier Deschamps. Despite being part of the best central defensive partnership in in the Premier League, and playing to an incredibly high level every week, Deschamps is not convinced by his performances on the international stage. He says:

He is having a good season, but he also does things that I don’t like so much. For France, he has limited game time, but when he plays, that hasn’t necessarily gone well. The hierarchy doesn’t favour him at the moment, but he is here.

Obviously he’s entitled to his opinion, but if you feel there’s something missing when a player reports for international duty, it’s your job as a manager to help him and to fix this issue that only you can see. I would suggest it’s counter-productive to suggest there’s a confidence issue with Saliba when he plays for France, and to then make comments like these publicly. France take on Chile this evening in a friendly, and it’s being reported Saliba will start.

There are Arsenal players in competitive action tonight as well. Jakub Kiwior will play for Poland against Wales as they scrap for a place at the Euros this summer, while Oleksandr Zinchenko’s Ukraine face Iceland in another play-off to reach the finals. Martin Odegaard (alongside Erling Haaland) is set to start for Norway as they play Slovakia, while Kai Havertz and David Raya could be involved for Germany and Spain respectively.

Let’s hope they all come through their games unscathed and can report back for Arsenal duty ready to take on Man City at the weekend. There’s a new Arsecast Extra for you below if you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, and we’ll have some more stuff for you a bit later and tomorrow as the Interlull comes to an end.

For now, have a good one.

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