Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka were poor - but Arsenal efforts show Gareth Southgate is the problem

  • England failed to impress again in the European Championships
  • Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka among those who made little impact
  • Poor Denmark display has heaped pressure on Gareth Southgate
Denmark  v England -EURO
Denmark v England -EURO / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Either Gareth Southgate is a poor coach or Mikel Arteta is working miracles with the Arsenal team…

Pre-tournament dreams have been quickly supplanted by (excessive?) rage for England as they produced another dour performance at Euro 2024 and earned a 1-1 with Denmark; an okay result that all but secures their place in the round of 16.

Of course, the score and post-match reaction will matter little to Arsenal, but concerns might linger over the efforts of Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka as both men (like everyone else on the pitch) failed to replicate their club exploits on the international stage - even if fingers should point directly at the dugout.

Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka were poor - but Arsenal efforts show Gareth Southgate is the problem

Rice had a particularly torrid afternoon in Frankfurt. After a good start versus Serbia, he summed up everything that was wrong with England on Thursday: being sloppy in possession, offering no attacking threat and failing to close down the opposition with his usual proactive vigour - a fault which allowed Morten Hjulmand the space to grab his incredible equaliser.

Saka fared somewhat better out wide, providing the Three Lions with an outlet up top and often looking the most likely to make a difference. Still, he too was far from his influential best and could not complain when subbed off on 70 minutes, although his replacement (Eberechi Eze) likewise left plenty to be desired.

Players can take some responsibility for bad individual work, but Rice and Saka - among others - only exposed the frailties of this England setup and Southgate’s constant failure, despite some strong tournament showings, to get the best out of his insanely talented panel.

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate has plenty to ponder / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

His cagey, defence-first mindset means ball progressors like Rice have no options to aim at once in possession and, when paired with out-of-position teammates (Trent Alexander-Arnold), have too much of the defensive workload to bear. For Saka then, a deep structure leaves him completely isolated on the wing, tasked with singlehandedly producing the magic to break down a staunch backline.   

Compare that to their Arsenal environment, where a great positional structure gives Rice only short distances to cover when sweeping up and Martin Odegaard/Kai Havertz drop deep to aid our ball progression. Additionally, the Gunners work as a unit to press and track back, which grants the 25-year-old more licence to make his marauding forward runs.     

And there is an argument that not even Arteta gets the best out of Saka, but he at least sets the team up to advance down his side while instructing Ben White to over/underlap for support. Dynamism in front of him - sorely lacking under Southgate - can also see Saka drift into central areas and drag defenders out of position, with such unpredictability contributing to our own impressive attacking numbers in recent campaigns.

England and Rice/Saka are far better than their recent performances suggest, and it partly stems from a coach whose dire pragmatism does not afford them the best opportunity to shine as they do at domestic level.

Southgate must find a solution somewhere, and fast. I wonder if Ben White is available…