Arsenal: Declan Rice already proving big price was no worry but Kai Havertz struggles continue

They are curious, the tales players tell themselves in the search for motivation.

"There's so much talk about the price tag," Declan Rice said, after his standout display in Arsenal's gritty win over Crystal Palace last night. "I want to keep proving people wrong, proving I can play at the top and keep putting in top performances."

Quite who said people are is not entirely clear, all but those so blindly stubborn as to be beyond salvation, having surely by now moved on from the early-career doubts over Rice's suitability to playing among the elite.

And as for questioning the worth of his £105million transfer fee? Even some of those grumbles have quieted since Moises Caicedo and Chelsea swiftly set a new standard for British football's record buy. "I've only had it (the record) up on the wall two weeks," Rice laughed after full-time here. "It's come down already!"

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

It will take more than a man-of-the-match performance at Selhurst Park in August for Rice's added value to a side that came within five points of the title last term to be made clear, but early evidence suggests that by season's end we will not be short of case studies.

"He was great," said boss Mikel Arteta, after watching his side hold onto a 1-0 victory, despite Takehiro Tomiyasu's red card midway through the second half. "He was bossing midfield, he dominated the game. He was very influential, both attacking and defending."

Having been deployed against Nottingham Forest on the opening weekend in a more advanced role that will take some figuring out, Rice was returned to home comforts here, screening his own backline superbly through the late 10-man rearguard after suffocating Palace's with the swift ball recoveries that kept Arsenal in firm control for as long as they retained a full complement.

From a deeper starting position, the 24-year-old was able to see the attacking picture in full, timing his dart to create the best chance of the first half for Eddie Nketiah, who lifted over the bar attempting to be too cute with his finish on the angle.

The forward had already struck the base of the post after sharp work to nip between Palace's centre-halves and made amends for his subsequent, more glaring miss by winning the penalty that put the Gunners ahead, getting a toe to Gabriel Martinelli's quick free-kick ahead of the charging Sam Johnstone. Martin Odegaard assumed responsibility to send the keeper the wrong way and afterwards hailed the impact of his new midfield accomplice.

"[Rice] has been absolutely brilliant in every game since he came in, and he showed it again today," said the Norwegian. "On the ball he's comfortable, off the ball he gives us power in the middle."

If Rice's integration has been seamless, then that of Kai Havertz is very much a work in progress, the former Chelsea man wandering around the midfield here looking if not quite one of the lost boys, then certainly very much the new one.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Where the right-hand side of Arsenal's attack revolves around the telepathic link between Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, Havertz and Martinelli will take time to learn one another's habits and needs. Here, Havertz was too often guilty of darting in behind full-back Joel Ward, in theory in support of Martinelli, but in reality depriving him of the space in which he likes to drive.

The puzzle over his best position is still to be solved, the German's liveliest performance in an Arsenal shirt so far coming in his sole outing as the attack's spearhead against Manchester City in the Community Shield, when only wasteful finishing let him down. Patience will be needed with Havertz, who is not just adapting to a new club but also coming off a standing start in terms of form, but it is not difficult to envisage a scenario where the discrepancy in opinion between a fanbase on the fence about the 24-year-old's arrival and that of a manager who clearly loves him drifts to extremes.

On Rice, though, they could not be more united.