Bukayo Saka refused to be drawn into more VAR controversy following England’s mundane Euro 2024 qualifying win over Malta.

The Arsenal winger has seen club manager Mikel Arteta handed a Football Association charge for his criticism of referees and VAR in the recent 1-0 Premier League defeat at Newcastle.

Arteta said it was “embarrassing” and a “disgrace” that Anthony Gordon’s goal was allowed to stand following a lengthy check.

England limped to a forgettable 2-0 victory over Malta at Wembley on Friday night but saw captain Harry Kane booked for simulation when there appeared to be clear contact from Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello.

Saka was introduced at the interval and set up Kane to double England’s lead before his Arsenal team-mate Declan Rice had a goal ruled out when VAR intervened once again to rule that Kane was offside.

“Honestly, let’s not make comments about VAR tonight,” Saka replied when asked about the tight calls.

“I think let’s just focus on the win, the three points and be positive about it.”

England had taken an early lead through an Enrico Pepe own goal but then toiled, with no shot on target until well into the second-half and Kane shown a yellow card having been accused of going to ground to easily.

Asked if he had ever known Kane to dive, Saka added: “No, no. Even if I did I’m not going to say it now! He’s not a diver.

“I think it was a clear penalty from what I saw. I thought even VAR would check it and overturn it but I don’t know what they saw.”

While the win over the minnows of Malta may have been wholly unconvincing, it does mean Gareth Southgate’s side are all-but assured of being top seeds at Euro 2024.

“(That is) very important,” Saka said.

“Going into this camp Gareth made that really clear and was clear that it was important for us.

“So obviously the mindset going into these two games we made sure that we were on it and we made sure that we were ready to win, so we won today – obviously we don’t want to lose to North Macedonia, the mindset (is) to go there and win again. So that’s what we’re focused on.

“I think it’s a game where we didn’t really start the best, obviously we tried to pick up the pace but we have to give some credit to Malta as well, they played quite well.

“But in the end, we won 2-0, we got the three points so now we just have to move on.”

Gareth Southgate said England’s players fell short of the standards they “need to be at” against Malta but had no concerns about their attitude and aptitude ahead of next summer’s European Championship.

Nobody at Wembley expected anything other than a victory from the side ranked fourth in the world against the one nestled between Fiji and Bermuda in 171st.

But already-qualified England made hard work of a straightforward Group C qualifying assignment on Friday, with Enrico Pepe’s own goal giving the hosts a lead in a first half in which they failed to muster a single shot on target.

Harry Kane added another after a rare moment of quality interplay in the second half as Southgate’s side limped to a 2-0 victory that all but assures their place among the top seeds at next month’s Euro 2024 draw.

“We didn’t start the game well,” the England boss said. “I’ve been in football for 35 years and if you don’t start well, it’s really difficult to pick it up.

“We needed, of course, to show better quality with the ball but also we were a bit stretched without it and a little bit disjointed in our pressing at times.

“We were not the level we would want to be at. We were not the level that we need to be at.

“But, equally, this group of players have been exceptional and I’m not going to start getting into their ribs too much about a performance like tonight.

“We made a few changes, we didn’t hit the levels we would have liked to have but they managed to win the game.

“Not in the style we’d have liked for the supporters but, in the end, we’ve won comfortably, as we should.”

England now head onto Skopje to complete their Euro 2024 qualification campaign against North Macedonia as preparations continue for next summer.

Glory in Germany is the sole focus and Southgate dismissed the suggestion that his players taking their foot off the gas at home to Malta was a worrying sign.

“No, it’s not a worry because I think sometimes when players have so many matches they almost self-regulate,” Southgate said.

“I’ve been a player. You know that there’s a certain level you need to hit to beat Italy here and you know that you don’t have to hit that level to win today’s game.

“Although you would think that everybody would be at the same level all the time, that’s not the reality of football.

“I’ve played in those matches myself and there are nights where subconsciously you just do enough to win and I think that’s a little bit where we were tonight.”

England were below par for the most part on Friday, but Southgate still saw things he liked in their final home match of an unbeaten year.

“We scored a lovely second goal and I think there were some individual performances that were very positive,” he added.

“I thought Trent (Alexander-Arnold) was very, very good (in midfield). Him and Phil (Foden) in the first half were the two that looked like opening things up.

“I thought Marc Guehi had a very mature performance again. He’s really growing as an international footballer.

“It was lovely to get Cole Palmer on and give him a feel of things and I thought he looked really very comfortable in the environment.”

The result meant Malta ended qualification bottom of Group C with defeats in all eight of their games, but they showed signs of promise against the Euro 2020 runners-up.

Teddy Teuma went close to a famous opener just 28 seconds into the match at Wembley, where head coach Michele Marcolini praised his players’ efforts.

“I’m very proud of my players,” the Malta boss said. “I think they came here in Wembley without fear, always brave. We tried to be as offensive as possible.

“They reacted very, very well to falling behind. I think during these European qualifiers, we grew a lot and in these last matches against Ukraine and England played very well.

“For everything, to grow, we need time. I am very happy with our performance and the regret is we didn’t score. It would have been amazing.

“Apart from that, we wanted to make the fans proud and I think today the players put on the pitch the last drop of sweat I asked them to do yesterday.”

England continued their unbeaten run in European Championship qualification with a 2-0 win over Malta.

The Three Lions opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Enrico Pepe put through his own goal.

Many supporters inside Wembley Stadium would have imagined a few more goals but they were made to wait till the 75th minute before they saw another when Harry Kane netted from close range to seal victory.

Elsewhere in Group C, Italy boosted their chances of making Euro 2024 with a 5-2 win over North Macedonia.

Matteo Darmian opened the scoring for the Italians before Federico Chiesa gave them a healthy advantage thanks to his brace before the interval.

But, Italy were made to sweat in the second half when Jani Atanasov scored twice to reduce the deficit to just one but Giacomo Raspadori’s strike nine minutes from time and Stephan El Shaarawy’s late fifth wrapped up the win.

In Group E, Albania qualified despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Moldova.

Albania hit the front in the 25th minute when Sokol Cikalleshi slotted home a penalty and their celebrations were put on ice when Vladislav Baboglo equalised for the home side, but the scores stayed level to send Albania through.

Czech Republic held onto the second qualifying spot as they claimed a 1-1 draw with Poland in Warsaw.

Poland looked like they would leapfrog their opponents into second when Jakub Piotrowski gave them a 1-0 lead but West Ham’s Tomas Soucek proved to be the hero – four minutes after the break – when he fired the ball home from close range to edge them further to qualification and ended Poland’s hopes.

In Group H, Denmark qualified for the group stages following a 2-1 victory over Slovenia.

Joakim Maehle put Denmark in front but Erik Janza’s strike four minutes later sent the teams level into the break.

The all important winner was scored by Thomas Delaney, who poked home from close range to send the Danes through.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan kept their hopes of qualifying alive thanks to a 3-1 home victory over San Marino.

The hosts were expected to gain all three points and were on their way when Islam Chesnokov claimed a brace, scoring either side of the break.

For just the second time in the qualifying phase, San Marino got on the scoresheet when Simone Franciosi nodded home from close range but Kazakhstan restored their two-goal advantage thanks to Abat Aimbetov’s late penalty.

Northern Ireland were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of Finland and slumped to their seventh defeat in qualifying.

Vladimir Coufal has backed “unbelievable” Declan Rice to win silverware with Arsenal this season despite suffering Carabao Cup defeat on his return to West Ham.

Rice joined Arsenal for £105million in the summer after a decade with the Hammers, who he captained to Europa Conference League success in his final match with the club.

The 24-year-old has started the season in fine form but was unable to help the Gunners fight back in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup.

Rice came off the bench to a mixed reception as the hosts ran out comfortable 3-0 winners courtesy of a Ben White own goal and second-half strikes from Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen.

West Ham will now face a trip to Liverpool in the quarter-finals, but Coufal believes Rice will add to the Community Shield won by Arsenal in August.

“I think they’ll win something for sure,” the Czech Republic full-back said.

“They’ve won the Community Shield already, so he already has a trophy with Arsenal. I think they’re not too disappointed to lose this game.

“It was something special, to see him on the other side of the pitch. He’s doing an incredible job for Arsenal, even better than he did for us.

“He’s an unbelievable player. It was strange to see him in different colours but we wish him all the best. He came into our changing room to say hello and see how we are.”

Arsenal may still be contesting for the Premier League and Champions League, with the FA Cup yet to come, but Coufal is targeting Carabao Cup success to add to the winners’ medal in the Europa Conference League.

“Of course we would like to win another trophy,” he said.

“It’s still very difficult. We know Man City are out, Man United, now Arsenal, but still there are a lot of good teams remaining.

“Every win against a team from the top six or top end of the table is really good. It was Carabao Cup but we needed this win after three difficult defeats in a row.”

Mikel Arteta made six changes to the Arsenal side that lost in east London but his starting XI still boasted nine full internationals.

One of the most experienced of those, Italy midfielder Jorginho, captained the visitors and he is pleased they can attempt to quickly bounce back from the defeat as they travel to face Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday evening.

“It’s great that the game is in three days because it’s a chance to turn things around, and turn this feeling because it’s not the best feeling, of course,” he said.

“We can go and try to put things right. The only thing we can take from this tough result is how we need to be much better at competing for the next game, because if you’re going to play at this level, you won’t win for sure.

“So that’s what I think we need to improve on for the next game to try and win there.”

Mikel Arteta took the blame for Arsenal’s painful 3-1 Carabao Cup defeat at West Ham.

Arteta made six changes to his line-up for the fourth-round clash, starting with Declan Rice on the bench on his Hammers homecoming.

Rice, who lifted the Europa Conference League trophy as West Ham captain last season, was back at his old club for the first time since his £105million switch to the Gunners.

But he will not be getting his hands on the Carabao Cup this season after strikes from Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen, following an early own goal by Ben White, sent the north Londoners crashing out.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Gunners boss Arteta. “I’m responsible for that, we’re out of the cup, we wanted to play a very different game and compete.

“The game took a direction because of the first goal but we have to see much more from the team and earn the right to win.

“I’m disappointed with myself. We wanted to play in a different way and we weren’t able to do that. Every time we lose the pain is there.

“We have to use this pain and this defeat to prepare the best way for Newcastle on Saturday.”

West Ham took the lead after 15 minutes when Bowen’s corner was inadvertently headed past Aaron Ramsdale by White at the near post.

The second goal arrived in the 50th minute when Ghana winger Kudus collected a long ball into the box from Nayef Aguerd, skipped past Oleksandr Zinchenko and rifled a low shot through the legs of Gabriel and into the net.

Rice was the only goalscorer the last time West Ham beat Arsenal, in the Premier League in 2019.

“You should have signed for a big club” was the mischievous chant aimed at the 24-year-old when he came out to warm up.

Much of the build-up to the match centred around the reception the England midfielder would receive and when he was sent on in the 56th minute the boos were quickly drowned out by a standing ovation from most of the home fans.

But, before Rice had a chance to get into the game, West Ham had a third after Bowen collected White’s headed clearance and lashed it past Ramsdale via a deflection off Jakub Kiwior.

Martin Odegaard scored a consolation goal with the last kick but it was West Ham’s night as they marched into the quarter-finals.

“It was a really good solid team performance. The forward players did a really good job and for long periods we were good defensively. For most of it we coped well,” said boss David Moyes.

“Maybe we are becoming quite a good cup team. I want to be a really good league team if I can be but if I can’t quite do that then we have to do well in the cups if we can.

“We have only won against Arsenal, we don’t get trophies for that.”

West Ham welcomed Declan Rice back to the London Stadium and then promptly sent him and Arsenal packing on the end of a 3-1 Carabao Cup defeat.

Rice, who lifted the Europa Conference League trophy as Hammers captain last season, was back at his old club for the first time since his £105million switch to the Gunners.

But he will not be getting his hands on the Carabao Cup this season after strikes from Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen, following an early own goal by Ben White, sent the north Londoners crashing out.

Rice started on the bench as Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta made six changes to his line-up for the fourth-round clash and the most of the damage was done by the time he was called upon.

West Ham took the lead after 15 minutes when Bowen’s corner was inadvertently headed past Aaron Ramsdale by White at the near post.

Gunners keeper Ramsdale, making his first appearance since the win at Brentford in the previous round, complained that Tomas Soucek had a hold of his shirt as the ball came over and he probably had a case but, with no VAR in operation, the goal stood.

White attempted to make amends but unfortunately for Arsenal his header at the other end was not quite as accurate and Lukasz Fabianski tipped it over the crossbar, with Eddie Nketiah heading the resulting corner wide.

After the break, Ramsdale made a fine save to deny Bowen, who was sent through by Lucas Paqueta, with White completing the clearance on the goal-line.

But the second goal arrived in the 50th minute when Ghana winger Kudus collected a long ball into the box from Nayef Aguerd, skipped past Oleksandr Zinchenko and rifled a low shot through the legs of Gabriel and into the net.

Rice was the only goalscorer the last time West Ham beat Arsenal, in the Premier League in 2019.

“You should have signed for a big club” was the mischievous chant aimed at the 24-year-old when he came out to warm up.

Much of the build-up to the match centred around the reception the England midfielder would receive and when he was sent on in the 56th minute the boos were quickly drowned out by a standing ovation from most of the home fans.

But, before Rice had a chance to get into the game, West Ham had a third after Bowen collected White’s headed clearance and lashed it past Ramsdale via a deflection off Jakub Kiwior.

Martin Odegaard scored a consolation goal with the last kick but it was West Ham’s night as they marched into the quarter-finals.

Mikel Arteta believes Declan Rice’s potential return to West Ham will be “beautiful” – if the Arsenal manager decides to play the midfielder in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash.

The 24-year-old England international moved across London in the summer, the Gunners paying a club-record £105million to prise him away from the Hammers.

Rice, who captained West Ham to victory in the Europa Conference League final in the last of his 245 games for the club he joined at the age of 14, could be in line for his first return to east London having shone in the opening months of his fledgling Arsenal career.

“It will be his first time back at his old club and a beautiful moment for him, I think,” Arteta said on the eve of the fourth-round tie.

“I think it is beautiful. I had a chance to do it a few times and then you really see what they think of you and what you left at the club.”

Arteta feels Rice will receive a warm welcome from the West Ham fans, adding: “Every time you hear him talk about West Ham and what they did for him and everybody at the club, he cannot talk any higher of them, so hopefully they will be the same way towards him.”

While Arteta suggested it was “likely” Rice would be involved in the game in some way, he was rested entirely for the 1-0 win at Brentford in the previous round.

The Spaniard made a total of eight changes for the victory in west London but insists the Carabao Cup – which he won twice as a coach at Manchester City – is still a major honour.

“It’s a competition that we have the chance to progress and win a trophy and our mindset has to be focused on West Ham,” he said.

“I live it exactly the same as the Premier League (on Wednesday). I have the same thing in my tummy and the certain thing and same way to prepare and I’m going to be there, closer to the game, and I just want to win the game for sure.

“Even if you are doing rotations, I think the role of the players that are now committed to challenge for this trophy or for this game, I think it’s critical for them to show what they can do.”

Gabriel Jesus will not feature despite Arteta revealing the striker is “already pushing” to return from a hamstring injury suffered in a Champions League win at Sevilla last week.

Captain Martin Odegaard is again likely to be rested as he recovers from a hip complaint, while Arteta admitted to “concerns” over Thomas Partey’s most recent setback.

The Ghana midfielder missed just seven games in five years at Atletico Madrid but has been plagued with issues since joining Arsenal in 2020 – sitting out 53 fixtures for club and country in that time.

“I think that he will be out for weeks,” Arteta said of Partey’s latest injury.

“It is a big concern because, when Thomas is fit and available and he’s been part of the team, we have seen what the results and the impact that he has on the team.

“This season we have more protection, especially for that reason as well because we know in the past two seasons what has happened and the impact that it had on the team, so we had to address that.”

Arsenal stung Chelsea with a stunning late fightback as they came from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Mikel Arteta’s side looked to be heading to a first defeat of the season when Mykhailo Mudryk’s cross-shot looped over David Raya minutes after the interval, adding to the lead given to them by Cole Palmer’s first-half penalty.

The visitors were far from their free-flowing best and Mauricio Pochettino’s side, inspired by the increasingly influential Palmer on the right of a front three, were for three-quarters of the game good value for what would have been a third straight league win.

But the pendulum swung when Robert Sanchez’s careless pass presented the ball to Declan Rice who cut the arrears, before Leandro Trossard stunned the home fans into silence with a close-range finish in the closing minutes to earn Arsenal a draw and move them level on points at the top of the Premier League.

For the first time under Pochettino, Chelsea started without a recognised striker, Raheem Sterling instead lining up centrally, flanked by in-form pair Palmer and Mudryk.

They took the lead after 14 minutes. Sterling crossed from the right into the six-yard box, and as William Saliba leapt with an arm raised, Mudryk’s header cannoned off it from close range. It took several minutes for referee Chris Kavanagh to be called to the pitchside monitor, but once checked there was little delay in awarding a penalty.

Palmer dispatched coolly past David Raya for his second Chelsea goal.

Arsenal had started sluggishly and it took until the 20-minute mark for their first opening, Martin Odegaard threading the ball into the left channel for Rice to stride onto, but his awkward right-footed effort clipped towards Sanchez’s far corner zipped wide of the post.

Palmer has been one of the catalysts of Chelsea’s sudden ascent to attacking potency under Pochettino, pulling strings whether collecting the ball deep or taking up a more advanced role. His impact was critical in consecutive wins against Brighton, Fulham and Burnley during which the team scored seven goals off the back of three scoreless matches, and here again he was the difference.

He had the chance to double the lead when Conor Gallagher, captain again with Reece James fit only for a late cameo, took the initiative and drove through the heart of Arsenal’s midfield, slipping the ball in to Palmer who found room in between Saliba and Gabriel to get off a low drive which flashed inches wide of Raya’s far post.

Chelsea might have pulled further clear in the closing minutes of the half, Sterling with a familiar burst down the right, slipping the ball to Malo Gusto who showed the finishing instincts of a full-back and ballooned over.

The second half began with a moment to forget for Arsenal goalkeeper Raya. Ben White gave the ball away to Gallagher inside the Chelsea half, and carrying the ball up the left flank he fed the overlapping Mudryk.

There seemed to be little on as the Ukrainian assessed options inside the box. Raya was positioned ready for a cross, but in doing so he left too much room behind him into which Mudryk’s ball drifted, sailing clean over the keeper, who flapped helplessly as it landed in the net.

Raya’s afternoon was going from bad to worse. Minutes after conceding, he was almost culpable for Chelsea’s third when he rolled the ball recklessly to the feet of Palmer who narrowly failed to nip around the goalkeeper and bury Arsenal.

Then, with Arteta’s side looking beaten, fortune turned in their favour. Rice hauled them back into it with 14 minutes to play and it was another goalkeeping error, this time from Sanchez.

Chelsea’s summer signing has repeatedly been culpable in recent games of conceding possession with poor distribution. Here, under little pressure, he passed the ball straight to the feet of Rice, who with quickness of thought thumped it first time from 30 yards beyond the stranded keeper.

Then the final sting for Pochettino.

Bukayo Saka was given time on the edge of the box to shift the ball from right foot to left, and with vision and precision, he picked out the run of Trossard who stole in behind Chelsea with a lunging right leg to divert it past Sanchez.

Mikel Arteta has called for Arsenal to change their Premier League losing streak against Manchester City ahead of their clash at the Emirates on Sunday.

Arsenal are without a league win against the treble-winners since 2015 and a defeat on Sunday would extend their losing run to 13.

Arteta highlighted that his side have broken winless streaks against other sides and called for his players to do the same against City.

“When I came here I think it was 18 years at Old Trafford, 17 years at Stamford Bridge and we have since done it, so lets change it,” Arteta said.

“My only worry is the quality of the opponent and that’s unquestionable and on Sunday we have to be at our best for 100 minutes. That’s what we can control and we need to focus.

“In these big games you need big players with talent who make it count. Duels are a big thing in a game which can go one way or another.”

Arteta lauded “top player” Declan Rice who he believes has adapted quickly to life in north London after his summer switch from West Ham.

Rice moved for a reported £105m in July and has featured in all seven league matches for the Gunners, scoring their second in a 3-1 win over Manchester United in September.

And Arteta highlighted the midfielder’s attributes which has allowed him to adjust to his new surroundings.

“With Declan, I am extremely pleased. He has the qualities, the presence, the understanding to be a top player for us in his position,” Arteta added.

“When you pay that sum of money you hope that they adapt really quickly but I think overall he’s adapted really nicely.

“The league, the opponents, the demands we have here, the player he is for the national team, his previous club as well are all really relevant (reasons he has settled in quickly).”

Erling Haaland failed to score when Arsenal beat City in the Community Shield  in August and Arteta believes his defenders have the physicality to nullify the Norwegian’s strengths.

He said: “That game was a while ago and it will be different, they will do different things as well but we are prepared to play to our strengths.

“I think we have enough physicality in the backline to deal with those players (Haaland) and we have to prove it with every action on Sunday.”

Kurt Zouma is determined to repay the faith shown in him by West Ham manager David Moyes.

The 28-year-old defender has been confirmed as West Ham’s club captain in the wake of Declan Rice’s summer switch to Arsenal.

Moyes forked out £30million to sign Zouma from Chelsea in 2021 and stood by the Frenchman after a video emerged showing him kicking and slapping his pet cat.

Zouma was fined two weeks’ wages and sentenced to 180 hours of community service after that unsavoury incident.

Last season, Zouma was one of West Ham’s stand-out performers during their triumphant run in the Europa Conference League.

And his redemption continued by being handed the armband and playing a big part in West Ham’s fine start to the current campaign.

“It’s a huge honour and privilege for me to be captain. It’s an amazing club and I’m just so proud,” Zouma told the PA news agency.

“The manager has done an amazing job. He’s a legend here. We won a trophy last year and that was a top achievement.

“And for me personally he has been helping me in every aspect, with my game and outside of football he has been supporting me throughout everything, and I just can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me and I try to give it back on the pitch.

“That’s my way, on the pitch. Everything he has helped me through I have to give it back on the pitch.”

West Ham have re-invested the £105million received for Rice in James Ward-Prowse, Edson Alvarez, Mohammed Kudus and Konstantinos Mavropanos, all of whom look like shrewd signings by Moyes.

“We lost a top player, an important player, in Declan,” added Zouma. “But I think the replacements that we made have been very clever.

“That didn’t affect us, to be fair, we knew he was going to go. He’s played some unbelievable games here, he’ll always be remembered here, but he’s an opponent now.

“The players that came in have bought into the project at West Ham, they’ve bought into the tactics, they’ve settled quickly as well.

“So we are pleased to have those guys and they’ve helped us make a really strong start to the season.”

Gabriel Jesus is ready to teach Arsenal’s Champions League newcomers all about a competition he used to skip school to watch as a boy.

The Gunners return to Europe’s elite club competition after a six-year absence, having finished second in the Premier League last season.

A number of Mikel Arteta’s players have yet to taste Champions League football, with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Declan Rice and William Saliba set to make their debuts in the tournament against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday night.

Jesus, meanwhile, scored 14 goals in 22 Champions League appearances for Manchester City and came off the bench as his former club lost the 2021 final to Chelsea.

“I remember the times I watch at home, the times I missed school to watch and my mum got crazy,” the Brazil forward said of why he holds the competition in such high regard.

“It starts from there. It was different to hear the music, to see the best clubs. All the leagues, the best clubs go. I think this helps a lot, then it is a different game, a different competition.

“If I talk, I get in trouble! As a kid, you do things you don’t control. Like I said to the kids: don’t do it, go to school.

“When I was a kid, 14, 15 years old, and I tried to go to the clubs to do tests to stay in the club, I always chose school.”

Having gone from playing truant to watch the Champions League to starring in it, Jesus will be key to any hopes Arsenal have of going deep into the tournament.

The 26-year-old, who has recovered from a second knee surgery in the past eight months, revealed his team-mates are already getting excited ahead of the visit of PSV and has backed them to shine.

“Yesterday, some of them were joking in the gym, putting the (Champions League music on),” he added.

“I’m sure everyone is happy, not just the players, the club, the fans, it goes a long way without playing in this competition, now Arsenal are back.

“A club like Arsenal cannot stay without playing that competition so everyone at the club is very happy.

“Everyone here is already experienced to know how to control emotions and these kind of things. Some of them, it is the first time they play in the Champions League.”

Arteta will also be taking charge of a team in the competition for the first time and believes Arsenal are back where they belong.

“Proud and excited I would say,” he said of his feelings on the eve of the opening Group B encounter.

“It’s been a long time for the club since we’ve been in the competition and obviously the first time for me as a manager as well.

“We’ve been chasing it and fighting for it and now we’ve got it. Now we have to make the most out of it and it starts at home.

“Every time that I watched it and we weren’t there I felt it. This club has to be in the Champions League and when I have the job that I have, the responsibility is to try and bring the club to the biggest stages, the biggest tournaments and then be fighting for them.”

Roy Hodgson admits every Premier League manager is looking for a player like Declan Rice to anchor their team as he prepares his Crystal Palace side to come up against the England midfielder on Monday.

The 24-year-old’s £105million move to Arsenal from West Ham last month made him one of four players in his position to have been bought for a nine-figure fee by European clubs during the last eight months, as the value placed by top sides on central midfielders has rocketed.

Rice is part of an elite group that includes World Cup-winner Enzo Fernandez and his new Chelsea team-mate Moises Caicedo – both signed by the Blues for British record fees – and England’s Jude Bellingham, who joined Real Madrid in July, with each having been signed for fees that could exceed £100m.

Hodgson’s Palace began the Premier League season with a 1-0 win at promoted Sheffield United but face a stern test when last year’s runners-up arrive at Selhurst Park, with Mikel Arteta’s side buoyed by the arrival of Rice to add steel to their midfield ahead of their return to the Champions League.

Experienced manager Hodgson said that, whilst it remains the game’s great goalscorers that command the highest fees, the importance of a deeper-lying central midfielder has been proven by English football’s most successful sides.

“I think it (central midfield) has always been big,” said Hodgson. “I don’t think it’s anything new. You will never be able to align it to centre forward because centre forwards will always be right up there as really big ones.

“It’s still Neymar and (Kylian) Mbappe that go beyond our hundred million pounds here. Harry Kane, yes he cost just over a hundred million (when he signed for Bayern Munich), but only because he was in the last year of his contract. If he’d have had a three-year contract, Tottenham would have been asking for a lot more money. They score the goals. The game is about goals.

“But I think the midfield area is an area where people within football have always understood the importance of it and the importance of getting good players in, none more so than Sir Alex (Ferguson) at Manchester United because he always had really, really top-class players in that centre of midfield, all of whom brought him trophies.

“(Rice) has got strength, he’s got energy, he understands the game very well. He gets from box to box, and when he’s in each of the boxes, he does a really good job. He knows how to defend and he also has an eye for goal, so really he’s the type of player that every person is looking for.”

Hodgson enjoyed the boost of winger Michael Olise turning down the chance to join Chelsea last week after Mauricio Pochettino’s side activated a £35m release clause.

The France Under-21 international, who Palace signed from Reading for a relatively modest £8m two years ago and has since flourished into an accomplished Premier League performer, instead opted to agree a new four-year deal to continue his development in south London.

He will be missing from Hodgson’s team to face Arsenal as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Yet it is Arsenal’s transfer business that occupied Hodgson’s attention ahead of Monday’s game, with Rice set to make his second Premier League start as the Gunners look to go one better and take the crown from champions Manchester City.

“It’s been an interesting development for him,” said the manager. “I’ve followed him a little bit myself through (James) Tomkins (who) told me about him many years ago. He said there’s a very good young player at West Ham, and I’ve seen that as he’s gone along.

“He’s done his apprenticeship really, coming through the ranks. He’s done his years at West Ham, each year getting better, and in the end becomes an international and clubs are (thinking) ‘who can I get who’s the best at his particular job for this role?’

“Declan Rice’s name is always going to be right up there on the top of the list, as was Bellingham of course at Real Madrid.”

Declan Rice is aiming for Premier League and Champions League glory at Arsenal, insisting he will take his £105million price tag in his stride.

The England midfielder joined from London rivals West Ham earlier this month after the two clubs negotiated how the record payment for a British player in the Premier League would be broken down.

Now Rice is in the United States, having joined his new team-mates to prepare for the upcoming campaign, with the Gunners aiming to go one better than their second-placed finish last season.

Mikel Arteta’s side will also return to the top table of European football for the first time since 2017 and Rice is hungry for success, having lifted the Europa Conference League trophy in his final game as West Ham skipper.

“I think it’s time now. You know Arsenal under Mikel have won Community Shields, FA Cups, but I think now, this is a massive club, it’s constant pressure of delivering titles and it’s been such a long time now since Arsenal won the Premier League,” Rice told Sky Sports News.

“Last year was so close, I feel like we’re better off now this year, learning from that experience. I think that’s definitely a target and of course you’re in the Champions League, you go into the Champions League to win, you don’t go into (it) just to take part.

“There’s always a narrative around Arsenal that they’re not going to win the Premier League or they haven’t been good enough.

“But I didn’t see it in that way at all. I see it in a way that he (Arteta) has improved the squad every year. The players have improved individually. Everyone’s gone up another level and when I spoke to Mikel about the way he wanted me to play, where he sees me playing and the vision he has for Arsenal.

“For me it is really exciting now to be a part of this project that Arsenal can get back to the big time and win some trophies.”

Rice’s arrival at the Emirates Stadium has eclipsed Arsenal’s previous transfer record – the signing of Nicolas Pepe from Lille for £72m – and will see West Ham receive a guaranteed £100m, with a potential £5m in add-ons.

The 24-year-old believes it is unfair he will carry increased expectations because of his price tag but insists he will not be weighed down by it.

“I just try to take everything in my stride. I can’t control what I’ve been bought for, that’s obviously been determined on how well I’ve played consistently over the last couple years,” he added.

“West Ham have obviously set that price, I tried to take it all of my stride, I’ve not really thought about the price tag once. I’ve been brought to Arsenal for a reason and that is to perform, to play football. To try and add to the squad, to try and win trophies.

“I’m not going to get involved in price tags. Of course people have always got opinions, you can’t please everybody. Someone’s always got something to say, but what’s important is that the manager, you know you’ve got his support, you’ve got family support, people that are close to you, that’s all that matters.

“I won’t try to think about that too much and to be honest with you, I haven’t. It’s football. A lot of players have been bought for £80, £90, £100million. It’s our profession. It’s just down to us to perform. So over the six years (of his contract), hopefully I can repay that price tag.”

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is convinced Thomas Partey will remain at the Emirates, despite the arrival of England star Declan Rice.

The Ghanaian midfielder has been linked with a move to Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia, but Arteta said he remains a key part of his plans.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s pre-season clash with Manchester United in New Jersey, Arteta said: “Without a question of a doubt, Thomas Partey is a super important player for us and for me. I want him to be in the team.

“Every time I spoke to him and every time I have a conversation with him, his will is to stay with us. For me, there’s nothing there at all.”

He said the arrival of Rice does not mean any lessening of Partey’s role.

“They can play together and that was in my plans,” he said. “You want to improve the squad and have more quality.

“We need players who can play together but we need players in the same position who can fight for their places.

“It’s something we haven’t had over the last few years and we wanted to improve that and that’s why we bought Declan.”

Arsenal finished second behind Manchester City in the Premier League last season, having topped the table for much of the campaign – an experience Arteta believes will help his players as they look to make the next step.

“I think what happened last year probably was necessary to learn the lessons you have to learn get better and be more successful and achieve what we want to achieve,” he said. “It’s part of that road and that journey.

“The level is going to go up. Teams are getting better and the league is getting stronger, it is only going to get harder.

“We have to be better. We have to play better and we have to do things better than we did last year. That’s what we are working on at the moment.”

Olexsandr Zinchenko, who made a huge impression in his first season after switching from Manchester City, is convinced they can make that step.

He said: “I said a lot of times in the past, I have the feeling and, the smell I would say, that Arsenal’s time is coming.

“Unfortunately last season we didn’t achieve what we wanted but it was a lot of good lessons for us during the season and, for sure, it will help us during the next one. I’m full of confidence so let’s see what’s going to happen.”

The Ukrainian international has had to deal with plenty off the pitch after the Russian invasion of his country and urged people to keep on supporting their fight.

He said: “I know some people have got fatigue from this war but we cannot give up.

“All of us we need to fight for our freedom, our independence.

“Today it is Ukraine, tomorrow it could be your country. That’s why we need to stick together and fight until the end.

Declan Rice is one of the world's best players in his position and is a great signing for Arsenal, according to John Barnes.

England midfielder Rice completed his move from West Ham to Arsenal last week in a transfer that could reach a value of £105 million.

Rice racked up 204 Premier League appearances for West Ham and bowed out by leading the club to success in the Europa Conference League.

Opta data showed he made more interceptions (63) than any other player in the Premier League last season.

Ex-England international Barnes has no doubts about Rice's ability to make an impact with Arsenal as they challenge for Premier League and Champions League glory under Mikel Arteta.

Rice made his first Arsenal appearance on Wednesday as his new side opened their US tour by comprehensively beating Wayne Rooney's MLS All-Stars 5-0 in Washington DC.

"Declan Rice, for a defensive midfield player, I think is one of the best in the country, if not the world, so, therefore, it's a great signing for Arsenal," Barnes said to Stats Perform.

"It is a great signing. He's very, very good. I would've loved him at Liverpool, but obviously, he wanted to go to Arsenal. He's a London boy.

"Arsenal have got what they needed. They have Thomas Partey in that position and Arsenal have always been a good footballing team, but they have lacked a bit of strength and protection for the back four and he will then give them that.

"That is as well as obviously signing Kai Havertz, a player with good experience, so they have made some very good signings."

Rice's England team-mate Jude Bellingham has also been on the move, swapping Borussia Dortmund for Real Madrid.

Bellingham completed 88 take-ons in the Bundesliga last season, the most by any central midfielder across Europe's big five leagues in 2022-23.

Barnes also believes that major transfer will prove to be a success as long as the 20-year-old does not try to do too much to meet any unrealistic individual expectations.
"He has been fantastic and I think he will do very well," Barnes said about Bellingham.

"However, he's not going there to be the superstar player. Of course, they had it with Cristiano Ronaldo and there was Lionel Messi at Barcelona, but Real Madrid doesn't have that [in the current team] – look at Eden Hazard [struggling] there. 

"Bellingham is a hard-working midfield player who is not going there to be a Messi or Ronaldo because that's not the type of player he is. 

"If you look at what they have there in terms of [Eduardo] Camavinga and [Aurelien] Tchouameni, they have got lots of good young players who are hardworking midfield players and Bellingham will be one of those. 

"Bellingham is not going there to be a Messi or Ronaldo – he is going there to help that situation whereby the age of the squad has come down. He's a very, very good midfield player who will help Real Madrid. 

"As long as he recognises that he's not going there to be the best player in the world in terms of what the public expect, like for him to score 30 goals a season and to be dribbling around people. 

"He does his job which he does very well and he will be very successful."

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