Declan Rice admits Arsenal need to find their Champions League “savvy” as Mikel Arteta’s young side continue to learn on the job.

The Gunners lost the first leg of their last 16 tie away to Porto on Wednesday night as Galeno’s brilliant last-gasp strike earned the hosts a 1-0 victory.

It extends Arsenal’s wretched record in Champions League knockout games – they still have not won outside of the group stages since 2010, having exited at the last-16 stage for seven consecutive years under Arsene Wenger.

Arteta secured a return to the top table of European football for the first time since 2017 but Arsenal’s hopes of progressing further suffered a blow at the Estadio do Dragao.

From their starting XI in Porto, only Kai Havertz had any previous experience of playing a Champions League knockout game and Rice conceded that lack of nous cost Arsenal late on.

“I think the last minute is probably a bit of inexperience,” he replied when asked if Arteta’s young team were on a steep learning curve.

“Just probably having a bit more savviness, in terms of it’s the 93rd minute, you look up at the clock, it’s 0-0, we gave a ball away on the edge of our box twice and then he bends one in the top bins.

“So we have got to have a bit of savviness to see out the game, because if you can’t win, definitely don’t lose – especially in a knockout game. But look, we are still positive. It is half-time in a two-leg tie and we will be ready for the next leg.

“You look at our team, we are such a young group. Some of us have not played in the Champions League before, so it is all about learning on the job.

“But we have to play better than we did tonight. They made it really tough, but in the second leg we will be ready to go and give it everything.

“I think it is good to have nerves – you get that experience and you need that to play in the biggest games. Whether there is nerves or no nerves, I think these are the type of games we need to learn from on the way and it is going to make us better overall.”

While the disappointment from the defeat will linger until the return leg at the Emirates Stadium on March 12, Rice knows Arsenal cannot suffer a Champions League hangover.

They are back in Premier League action as they host Newcastle on Saturday.

“Look, we have lost games this year and drawn games, and I have seen the changing room after and it’s been really bad when we have lost and drawn games,” added England international Rice.

“But here, we have just lost, but in there is a real positivity around the group at the minute, around the club.

“We have had such a good start to 2024, I think we take the positives from this game tonight, but also see where we can improve. It is going to be a big game in two weeks’ time and we will be ready for it.”

Gareth Southgate insists he is keeping an open mind about staying with England beyond Euro 2024 this summer.

The 53-year-old is under contract until December and accepts it is possible he may not even be in charge by the time England play Nations League matches against the Republic of Ireland, Greece and Finland in the autumn.

However, he insists his decision is not yet made either way and remains open to the possibility of staying on and working with England’s exciting crop of players, led by Real Madrid superstar Jude Bellingham.

“There’s a fair chance half the coaches won’t be here after the Euros. That’s international football,” he said at the draw in Paris.

“You’ve got to see how the summer goes. It’s as simple as that. In my view, I know what we’re capable of achieving in the summer, I know what my own benchmark of success would be, after that I’m not really thinking about anything else.

“Without a doubt it’s exciting to take the team, it’s always been exciting to take the team, whatever the strengths of the squad. In the end, we’ve got to deliver a performance and you’ve got to make the best decisions for everybody. I won’t be in a position to make that decision before the tournament.”

While Bellingham’s place in the squad appears certain barring injury, others seem to have a much bigger fight on their hands.

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has hit the headlines recently after an unsanctioned trip to Belfast and Southgate insists all his players are being monitored on and off the field.

“We’re five weeks away from picking a squad, although so much happens to players over the period between November and March that we’re always sitting and observing everything on and off the pitch.”

The last competitive encounter between England and the Republic was a Euro 92 qualifier at Wembley, where a Niall Quinn goal cancelled out Lee Dixon’s opener.

A friendly match in 1995 at Lansdowne Road had to be abandoned due to crowd trouble and the teams’ most recent meeting was a November 2020 friendly.

England midfielder Declan Rice played three senior matches for the Republic before switching allegiance to England, while Manchester City star Jack Grealish also played for the Republic at under-age level.

Southgate said: “I have to say that I don’t know where we would have been without them. If we hadn’t had Declan over the past four years then I don’t know what we would have done.”

Football Association of Ireland director of football Marc Canham said of the draw: “It’s tough, but exciting, some amazing games and obviously we’re playing England for the first time in a while.

“It’s a great opportunity for our players and team and our amazing fans, an experience they can really look forward to.”

Wales will be up against Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey in Group B4.

Wales boss Rob Page said: “We know what Turkey are about (having played them in the Euro qualifiers last year). There are no easy games in international football but, with regards to the opposition, if we could have handpicked them we probably would have picked them.

“That’s no disrespect to them, but we want to give ourselves the best opportunity.”

Steve Clarke’s Scotland are up against Croatia, Portugal and Poland in Group A1.

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland were drawn in Group C3, where they will take on Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Belarus.

O’Neill said: “I think they will be good games for the young squad that we have at the minute. It will be a test for them as part of their development as international players.”

The league phase will be played between September and October before League A quarter-finals and promotion/relegation play-offs take place in March 2025.

Single-leg semis and a final will be played in June 2025.

Brendan Rodgers revealed Celtic once came close to signing Declan Rice as he highlighted the precarious nature of January transfer deals.

Rodgers hopes to add to his squad early in the month but added a note of caution in the tale of England midfielder Rice, who moved from West Ham to Arsenal in a £105million deal in the summer.

Rodgers has previously spoken of the need to sign players who can make an instant impact with most of the club’s summer signings still to establish themselves in the team.

The Celtic manager, whose first spell in Glasgow came in 2016-2019, said: “The club will do absolutely everything we can to support what we need and what the team needs.

“There is lots of work going on in the background, and I’m pretty sure that in this early period of the month, we can have some joy and get one or two in. Ideally you’d want to get them in (early).

“Deals can be complicated and things that might have been there for three or four months can fall away. That’s always the challenge – it only takes one injury to (affect) a player who was lined up to come in.

“I remember when I was here the first time, we spent about three months looking for Declan Rice to come in.

“Declan was all set to come in and then all of a sudden they (West Ham) had an injury, he stayed and got in the team and the rest is history. That’s not the club’s fault – it’s just the way it goes.

“We have a number of positions we want to prioritise. There are other positions where we won’t be able to do anything until the summer, I know that. But what I do know is that we want to improve the squad and the club are very happy to support that.”

Rodgers is looking to reduce the size of his squad this month but that process is subject to external influences as well.

“I have regular dialogue with players but still we obviously have to wait and see as well because some players may want to go out but, if we don’t get the players in that we need, then I have to ensure the squad is as strong as it possibly can be for the second part of the season,” he said.

Mikel Arteta believes his Arsenal side have shown enough in the group stage to prove they can compete back in the Champions League.

The Gunners drew 1-1 at PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday night in the final game of Group B – with both sides already assured of their place in the last 16 before kick-off in the Netherlands.

Arteta made eight changes for the game and Eddie Nketiah’s first Champions League goal put them ahead only for Yorbe Vertessen’s smart finish to seal a share of the spoils.

Arsenal had already secured safe passage as group winners on their return to the elite level of European football following a seven-year absence – and Arteta feels his team have proven they belong at the top table.

“Overall, I think, very positive,” he said in his press conference when asked how Arsenal’s return to the Champions League had gone.

“Having not been in the competition for six or seven years and having a team that hasn’t got that much experience, I think we’ve competed really well.

“I really liked the approach of the team in every single game, the way we’ve tried to play. We had some big results and big experiences, like the one we had in Seville or Lens, or even today looking at how the team can act and how fair it is to give certain players that exposure when you make so many changes.

“Overall finishing first with a game to play we have to be really happy. Now we have to now close that chapter until February and make sure that when that chapter opens up again that we’re in the best place to compete against another top side.”

Arteta had taken three young players to the Netherlands but none of them made it onto the pitch, instead Declan Rice was a second-half substitute into the defensive line.

Normally operating in midfield, Arteta admitted he wanted to see how Rice fared at centre-back, adding: “He has played there before.

“We have to try as if we have an emergency, we have to understand and to be sure that we can fill that gap in the right way. He has a lot of composure on the ball, he wins a lot of duels for a player of his size and he has done it in the past. He is a good option.”

Mikel Arteta insists he will continue to show emotion on the touchline despite landing himself with a ban for Arsenal’s trip to Aston Villa.

The Spaniard will not be in the dugout at Villa Park as Arsenal aim to strengthen their grip at the top of the Premier League after he received a third yellow card of the season in Tuesday’s last-gasp victory at Luton.

The Gunners came from behind to win 4-3 as Declan Rice headed in the decider deep into stoppage time, with Arteta cautioned by referee Samuel Barrott, who deemed he had excessively celebrated the goal.

However, Arteta – who could face a further touchline ban following a Football Association charge for his post-match comments after the controversial loss at Newcastle – does not want to rein in his demeanour.

“I don’t know how to stop it,” he said.

“It was a really emotional moment with everybody bouncing around and you lose sense of where you are and the space you have to be in.

“It was unfortunate as now I cannot be next to my team on the touchline but it is a decision that they make looking strictly at the rules.

“After that I straight away sat on my seat and stayed there for 30 seconds but that was after the emotion. In the moment I think it is very difficult to demand that.”

Asked if he would actually want to stop showing his emotion, Arteta replied: “If I was given the opportunity, no.

“I would like to be with my players because we work closely every single day to achieve what we want, which is to win the games and when you get those moments in sport you should be able to do that.

“I understand as well that there are certain boundaries and you have to respect that you are at an away ground but if I was given the chance I would be there jumping.”

Arteta did suggest that not all managers have been punished for similar reactions, adding: “Maybe we have to extend (the technical area). We just need a very strong rope, or we don’t move. But it means we don’t move – all of us.

“The ‘we’ is different in the context and it is important to look at the ‘we’ in that context.”

Arteta will be in the directors’ box at Villa Park but will be allowed to take the pre-match team-talk and join his players in the dressing room at half-time and full-time before completing his media obligations.

Arsenal will be trying to become the first team to win at Villa since they themselves scored twice in stoppage time to seal a 4-2 victory in February.

Since then Unai Emery has overseen 14 successive home Premier League wins and will be keen to put one over his former club, with Villa sitting third in the table heading into the weekend.

Emery was chosen to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in 2018 but was sacked just 18 months later to be replaced by Arteta.

The pair both hail from the Basque Country – where fellow coaches Julen Lopetegui, Xabi Alonso and Andoni Iraola also grew up.

Arteta admits Emery was a manager he looked up to as he started out on his own coaching career, saying: “He’s the most experienced and the most successful one, by quite a long distance with everything he’s achieved in the game and everything he’s won. He’s someone I admire.

“I followed him since he was in Almeria and for every team he has always been remarkable. He always improves the players, the team and the club.

“He’s Basque like I am and he is a manager that I really admire for what he has done in the game.

“He has done it in various countries at different levels and always been successful. I am really happy for him.”

Declan Rice believes Arsenal’s “never-say-die” attitude can lead them to Premier League glory this season.

The England midfielder headed home a last-gasp winner as Mikel Arteta’s side came from behind to secure a thrilling 4-3 victory at Luton on Tuesday night.

Rice nodded in Martin Odegaard’s cross to spark scenes of wild celebration in the away end after Kai Havertz had earlier drawn them level at Kenilworth Road.

The visitors had led 2-1 at half-time as Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus scored either side of Gabriel Osho’s equaliser but two errors from goalkeeper David Raya gifted Luton the lead.

Elijah Adebayo headed in a corner with Raya stranded as the Spain international came off his line and got nowhere near the ball before Ross Barkley’s shot squirmed under his body to take the roof off Luton’s famous old stadium.

Arsenal, though, proved their title-winning credentials by battling back to go five points clear before Wednesday night’s games, and Rice believes their knack of scoring late can galvanise the Gunners this season.

“I think last year they were eight points clear and obviously lost the title,” the £105million summer signing said.

“This year there definitely seems to be a different feel around the place in terms of being stern, being steady, being composed in big moments.

“Luton Town caused us a massive threat and it looked like we were going to drop points. But this season, it’s that never-say-die attitude that we’ve got that we keep pushing, keep fighting to the end and I think that’s our fifth goal in added time.

“I think we should start scoring some a bit earlier! But to score in added time, it shows what we are made of and we will never stop believing.”

Rice’s header was the ninth league goal Arsenal have scored in the 84th minute or beyond this campaign, with their late shows earning them an additional nine points.

Arteta was booked for his over-zealous celebrations following Rice’s winner and will now be banned from the dugout for Saturday’s trip to Aston Villa.

For Luton, it was a tale of what might have been on a night when they went toe-to-toe with a team that spent 248 days at the top of the table last season before losing out to Manchester City.

“Proud. Devastated – the two words are proud and devastated,” experienced winger Andros Townsend said when asked to describe his feelings.

“Proud because it was an amazing performance against one of Europe’s best clubs, score three goals, press higher to not give them any time on the ball, to have chances.

“To still lose it, devastating, but on Sunday we’ve got Man City, so we have to drown our sorrows and then we have to take the positives and look forward to another tough game.”

Mikel Arteta hailed a “special night” for Arsenal after Declan Rice’s headed goal seven minutes into stoppage time secured a sensational 4-3 win against Luton at Kenilworth Road.

Rice climbed to nod home Martin Odegaard’s cross and seal a victory that sent his team five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

That outcome had looked unlikely when Ross Barkley squeezed a shot through goalkeeper David Raya to put the hosts 3-2 up early in the second half and send home fans into delirium.

But Arteta said: “I really enjoyed it, especially the end.

“It’s the incredible thing about football, emotions and the moments that you live together. It was a special night.

“Credit to Luton for the incredible atmosphere that they created and the way they played. They made life really difficult for us. But we found a way to win. The resilience and the the character and the quality showed.

“Playing every three days, and we have to win every game, the demands are there. It’s the way (the players) go about it, how much they want it.

“Today we conceded some goals we’ll be disappointed with. That’s part of it as well, it’s going to happen. It’s how we react to that.”

Arsenal had opened the scoring when Gabriel Martinelli tapped home after being set up by a low cross from Bukayo Saka, though Luton hit back quickly when Gabriel Osho headed in from a corner to make it 1-1.

Arteta’s side regained the lead before the break, Gabriel Jesus nodding beyond Thomas Kaminski at the far post after good link-up play between Saka and Ben White on the right, but they were again pegged back shortly after half-time by Elijah Adebayo who out-jumped the goalkeeper to equalise.

Barkley’s goal, an effort straight at Raya that passed through his hands and under his body, put Rob Edwards’ side in sight of a famous victory.

That lead was wiped out within minutes when Kai Havertz scored his third goal in four games, beating Kaminski to the ball to score from Jesus’s dinked pass into the box.

Then late drama as Rice’s intervention with virtually the game’s final touch broke Luton hearts and extended Arsenal’s winning run to four league games.

It was the fourth league game this season in which Arsenal scored a winning goal beyond the 85th minute after similarly late shows against Brentford, Manchester City and Manchester United, with Rice scoring in the 96th minute against the latter.

“We don’t want to draw, we want to win,” said Arteta. “That drive, that energy, that risk and that emotion we put in the pitch, you can sense it.

“We should have scored before with the chances that we had. We didn’t, but we tried until the end and we got rewarded.

The manager would not be drawn on the performance of Raya, who was arguably at fault for two of Luton’s goals.

He added: “It’s not about blaming, we’ve never done it and we’re not going to do it now. It’s about how the team reacts to that. I loved that response. I think we can defend much better there, for sure.”

Luton boss Edwards reflected on a game from which his team can take confidence despite a disappointing conclusion.

“I didn’t know what to say to the lads afterwards,” he said. “I’m proud. We mustn’t let that one moment affect us too much, we’ve got to look at the bigger picture.

“They did exactly what we asked of them and gave everything. We’ve just come up short tonight.

“We made it a really uncomfortable night for them, we tried to make it chaotic, be aggressive and brave. We can take some positivity from it, and we have to.”

Declan Rice scored a last-gasp winner to settle a seven-goal thriller at Luton, sparing the blushes of goalkeeper David Raya to send Arsenal five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Luton had looked on course to land a thoroughly deserved draw after two errors from Raya had seen them hit the front – only for the Gunners to rally and win it 4-3 at the death.

Raya embraced Rice at the full-time whistle after Kai Havertz had earlier drawn the visitors level in what proved to be a thrilling contest at Kenilworth Road.

The visitors had led 2-1 at half-time as Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus scored either side of a Gabriel Osho equaliser.

Raya, whose role as Arteta’s number one continues to be in the spotlight with Aaron Ramsdale warming the bench, then gifted two goals to Luton in the space of eight minutes as Elijah Adebayo and Ross Barkley turned the game on its head.

Havertz appeared to have salvaged a point for Arsenal but they pushed on to the last and £105million summer signing Rice nodded in a fine Martin Odegaard cross to wrap up the victory.

Having seemingly spent more time on his back than on the ball, Martinelli silenced a raucous home crowd with the opening goal.

Luton had started aggressively but played their part in falling behind as Amari’i Bell’s overhit backpass was put out for a throw by Thomas Kaminski. Jesus was quick off the mark to find Bukayo Saka, who laid the ball across for Martinelli to scuff home with their first effort on target.

The home fans would not be kept quiet for long, however, as Osho easily drifted away from the attentions of Martinelli to head home Alfie Doughty’s corner five minutes later.

In what was proving to be a mixed bag of a first half for Martinelli, he almost put Arsenal back in front after the half-hour having been slipped in by Jesus but his effort was superbly stopped by Kaminski.

The Hatters goalkeeper was on hand again soon after to push away a Saka strike after the England forward cut inside with ease.

Luton, though, could not make it into the half-time break on level terms as Ben White stood up a cross to the back post where Jesus headed in from close range.

Less than five minutes after the restart, however, the hosts equalised for the second time as Adebayo rose to head in another Doughty corner with Raya coming off his line and getting nowhere near the ball.

The roof came off Kenilworth Road as Luton hit the front for the first time soon after, Raya again at fault as Rob Edwards’ experienced heads combined with Andros Townsend feeding Barkley, whose low shot squirmed in under the Spanish goalkeeper.

All of Luton’s hard work was undone just three minutes later as Arsenal this time drew level, Havertz finishing off after a long ball had been steered into his path by Jesus.

The Gunners wanted a penalty after Saka was challenged in the box by Osho and Gabriel Magalhaes went down as he jostled for a cross but referee Sam Barratt pointed for a corner following a VAR check.

It was Arsenal pushing for a late winner and Kaminski turned a Havertz header over at the end of a slick move.

Rice would ultimately make the difference as Arsenal were patient in their build-up, Odegaard swapping passes with substitute Oleksandr Zinchenko before crossing in for Rice to head home.

Gareth Southgate’s England squad selection will be a huge discussion point as next summer’s Euros come into focus.

An unbeaten 2023 is now in the history books and the PA news agency has analysed how Southgate likely sees his options right now.

Goalkeepers

On the plane: Jordan Pickford (Everton).

In the departure lounge: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace) and Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal).

Hoping for a late ticket: Nick Pope (Newcastle).

Pickford established himself as England’s number one ahead of the 2018 World Cup and is all but certain to go into his fourth major tournament as the main man between the sticks. Ramsdale had looked his closest contender but David Raya’s arrival at Arsenal has impacted his playing time and could well damage his international ambitions. Johnstone has supplanted Pope as third choice for the time being.

Defenders

On the plane: Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle) and Kyle Walker (Manchester City).

In the departure lounge: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Reece James (Chelsea) and Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan).

Hoping for a late ticket: Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa), Rico Lewis (Manchester City), Tino Livramento (Newcastle) and Ben White (Arsenal).

Trippier, Stones, Walker and Maguire have been to every previous major tournament under Southgate and will do so again if fit and playing.

James undoubtedly has the quality to be on the plane but needs to prove his fitness – not ideal given his issues staying available and the competition at right-back.

Injured Chelsea team-mate Chilwell is in a similar position but may benefit from a dearth of options at left-back. That said, he looks behind Shaw and further behind than the Euro 2020 final goalscorer in terms of his rehabilitation.

Colwill can fill in there as he did on his England debut against Australia, which will boost the central defender’s hopes. He missed November’s camp through injury, meaning Tomori and versatile teenager Lewis starting there instead. The latter impressed on his debut against North Macedonia.

Guehi has established himself as third-choice centre-back and Dunk pushed his case before having to withdraw from November’s squad. Konsa was brought in but did not feature. Livramento was name-checked by Southgate and White has not been involved since Qatar 2022.

Midfielders

On the plane: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Jordan Henderson (Al-Ettifaq) and Declan Rice (Arsenal).

In the departure lounge: Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Cole Palmer (Chelsea) and Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City).

Hoping for a late ticket: Mason Mount (Manchester United) and James Ward-Prowse (West Ham).

Bellingham would be in any squad in the world, as would Rice. There are questions over Henderson and Phillips given their club situations, but Southgate has so far seen enough to stick with two players he trusts implicitly. The latter’s place is the bigger doubt given his limited playing time at Manchester City.

The Football Association now lists Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder, with his versatility and qualities surely enough to see him involved in a midfield that Gallagher is now a regular part of.

Palmer got the nod this time and the adaptable attacking midfielder featured in both November fixtures after a fine start at new club Chelsea.

By contrast, Mount’s difficult end to last season and injury-impacted beginning to life at Old Trafford has seen him miss out on recent squads, but Southgate is a long-term admirer of the Euro 2020 final starter. Ward-Prowse has not been called up despite his impressive form at West Ham.

Forwards

On the plane: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal).

In the departure lounge: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), James Maddison (Tottenham), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) and Callum Wilson (Newcastle).

Hoping for a late ticket: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Anthony Gordon (Newcastle), Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea) and Ivan Toney (Brentford).

England are blessed with an abundance of attacking options. Skipper Kane is a certainty, as is fleet-footed Saka. Foden, Grealish and Rashford are established performers under Southgate, while Maddison is now a regular squad member.

There are decisions to make beyond them. Sterling has won 82 caps for his country but has not featured since December’s World Cup quarter-final loss to France.

Bowen is another fighting for a sport after his October recall and was denied a chance to take his West Ham form onto the international scene by an issue sustained on the eve of the Macedonia game.

As for Kane’s back-up, Watkins scored on his return to the set-up in October but failed to further his chances with a poor performance from the start in Skopje.

Nketiah was omitted having made his debut last month, while injury hampered Wilson’s chances to prove he should go to another tournament in that role. Calvert-Lewin did at Euro 2020 and is fit again and Toney is the most interesting alternative, although his betting ban does not end until January.

Declan Rice went to the World Cup surrounded by England team-mates who had won the biggest prizes in the game – now he is a £105million player who insists he is not fazed by the price tag having lifted European silverware and instantly taken to Champions League football.

The 24-year-old admitted a year ago in Qatar that he wanted to play at the highest level and left West Ham in the summer after captaining them to Europa Conference League glory.

Rice moved across London to Arsenal, joining the Gunners for a club-record fee and has hit the ground running with a run of fine performances for Mikel Arteta’s side.

While previous big-money signings have seemingly been weighed down by hefty price tags, Rice has flourished in spite of it.

“When the transfer was going through I was very nervous because of the price tag,” he said.

“It’s natural to think about that. You’re a human being bought for £105m, it doesn’t feel very normal. But that was because of what I’d done at West Ham, what they valued me at.

“When I signed for Arsenal, I just thought I just need to be Declan Rice, be myself, don’t be any different, everything will go smoothly.

“The first three weeks of pre-season were really tough in terms of the change. When you’re at a new job you start to feel really settled after a few weeks.

“That really feels the case now. In terms of the price tag, I don’t really think about it, I just play the games and try to play as well as possible.

“Honestly, I just try to play my football. I don’t let it affect me in any way, shape or form. I just go to training, try to train as well as possible.”

Rice’s England colleague Jack Grealish admitted he found talk of his £100m move to Manchester City “annoying” and that more was expected of him as a result of the big fee.

“It’s £100m, it’s a lot of money, I could understand the pressure that comes with it,” added Rice.

“Not only the pressure you put on yourself but there’s an expectation of being bought for that much money we need to see performances straight away.

“I want to repay the club back straight away, they have invested a lot of money in me, I need to prove why I can go there and change things.

“I can see why Jack struggled maybe at the start – mentally. He was a £100m footballer but as he wasn’t playing as much, it was probably as bit different for him. Now he’s flying and it’s the same for me.”

 

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Rice insists he always had faith in his ability to step up to the highest level and he has shone particularly brightly on Arsenal’s Champions League nights so far.

“I won the trophy at West Ham, which was another level. It was incredible for me and the club. Now I’ve been playing on Champions League nights and been playing relatively well, but it’s something I always believed I could do,” he said.

“It was just waiting for my chance and my opportunity. Every game that’s coming now, I’m just trying to take it step by step and perform on the biggest stage.

“Speaking honestly, I feel I was playing as well at West Ham in my last season. Even though we didn’t have the best season as a team, I feel like I kicked on again. You never want to stay stale as a footballer.

“You’re always looking to improve, always looking to get better. I still feel there’s so many more levels I can get to. It’s just about being eager to learn, practising on the training pitch, and always listening as well.”

Rice has also called on England to end an unbeaten 2023 with a “bang” by winning their final Euro 2024 qualifier away to North Macedonia on Monday.

England have not suffered defeat since their World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France last December and sealed their spot at next summer’s finals with two games to spare.

After a drab 2-0 win over Malta on Friday, Rice is keen for England to put in a better showing to bring the curtain down on a strong calendar year.

“I think especially the other night after Malta there is just a bit of pride in ourselves that we need to raise our level,” the Arsenal midfielder said.

“We need to put out a statement and it would be a good way to end the year. We are currently unbeaten since the World Cup so it is down to us to go out tomorrow night, put on a performance.”

Declan Rice has called on England to end an unbeaten 2023 with a “bang” by winning their final Euro 2024 qualifier away to North Macedonia.

England have not suffered defeat since their World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France last December and sealed their spot at next summer’s finals with two games to spare.

Rice’s Arsenal team-mate Bukayo Saka hit a hat-trick in a 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in June.

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After a drab 2-0 win over Malta on Friday, Rice is keen for England to put in a better showing to bring the curtain down on a strong calendar year.

“I think especially the other night after Malta there is just a bit of pride in ourselves that we need to raise our level,” the Arsenal midfielder said.

“We need to put out a statement and it would be a good way to end the year. We are currently unbeaten since the World Cup so it is down to us to go out tomorrow night, put on a performance.

“You need to be mentally prepared, have the right mentality and be ready for a hostile environment and make sure we go out of this year with a bang. We will be ready for whatever they throw at us.”

Rice will collect his 48th cap in Monday’s game and the former West Ham captain admits he was “gutted” that a controversial VAR call cost him a fourth England goal in the Malta win.

Just moments after Harry Kane had doubled the lead, Rice charged forward and drove home a fine finish that was ultimately ruled out for offside against Kane.

“To be honest with you, going back to the other night I was gutted,” he said.

“When I picked the ball up and drove through and bent one into the far corner, I was buzzing because I don’t really score goals like that often.

“When it was chalked off I was gutted, but it was one of those where I didn’t want to get into something with the ref, get a silly yellow card. The game was won at 2-0 so it is one of those you have to take on the chin.

“Hopefully I can score one of those again, maybe tomorrow night, so we will have to wait and see.”

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has landed a Football Association charge for his stinging criticism of VAR following the recent Premier League defeat at Newcastle – labelling the decision to allow Anthony Gordon’s winning goal to stand as both “embarrassing” and a “disgrace”.

“It is one of those things, you are going to get decisions that go your way and those that don’t go your way,” Rice said on VAR.

“At the minute it is a bit up in the air because some decisions being made are the wrong decisions, some are right, but we are just there to play football and it is down to the authorities to decide – the people at Stockley Park and the referees.”

Phil Foden has backed himself to add goals and assists to Gareth Southgate’s England side in the build-up to Euro 2024.

The Manchester City forward collected his 30th cap in Friday’s drab 2-0 win over Malta as England all-but secured their place as top seeds for next summer’s finals.

It was Foden’s cross that Malta defender Enrico Pepe inadvertently diverted past his own goalkeeper to open the scoring as England toiled at Wembley.

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Harry Kane doubled the lead in the second half, finishing off a flowing team move in which Foden was an integral part.

The 23-year-old has scored just four goals since making his debut in 2020 and a place in Southgate’s starting XI is still not guaranteed, with Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka often preferred on the right side of the attack.

“I always want more for myself, I think I can add goals to this team – and assists,” Foden told beIN Sports.

“I was involved in both of the goals (against Malta), maybe we weren’t at our best but we got the job done in the end and that’s the most important thing.

“I’m enjoying my football a lot at the moment, I’m expressing myself, I’m playing really well. So yeah, I need to keep that up, keep pushing myself to score more and get assists.”

With Foden and Saka competing for a place on the right, 62-goal skipper Kane leading the line and the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish also pushing to start games, Southgate has an embarrassment of riches in attacking positions.

The fact Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling has failed to get back into the squad since the World Cup in Qatar only proves how deep the options are for the national team – although his Blues team-mate Cole Palmer is now involved.

The 21-year-old joined Chelsea from Manchester City in the summer, where Foden had seen what he could offer at close quarters.

“He’s so relaxed on the pitch,” Foden said of Palmer.

“He looks like he’s been there for years and he’s such a young lad with tremendous quality and is someone I know really well.

“I tried to help him as much as I could at City when he was coming up and he is at Chelsea now and doing really well so I’m delighted for him to get his debut.

“It just shows that if you work hard through the academy, it comes through so I’m really delighted for him.”

Gareth Southgate wants England to go into next summer’s Euros with momentum and is targeting an unbeaten run all the way through to Germany.

Having wrapped up progress to next year’s finals with two games to spare, Friday’s forgettable 2-0 victory against Malta all-but assured their place among the top seeds at the December 2 draw.

England cruised to qualification from what had looked to be a potentially tricky pool and Southgate wants his side to end 2023 with a bang as they round off Group C away to North Macedonia on Monday.

But with Euro 2024 glory their stated ambition, the former defender wants his players to keep their foot on the gas.

“We’ve had a really good calendar year and we want to finish it well,” the England manager said ahead of the trip to Skopje. “Simple as that.

“We should be aiming to go, if we can, into the tournament unbeaten. We’ve got some tough games coming ahead.

“I mean, I’m a bit loathed to say that because then you start looking for draws when you want to go and win matches as well, so I want to get the messaging right on that.

“But, you know, it’s good for us to be away from Wembley again, a challenging environment because that’s what we’re going to be in next summer.”

England have not lost a match since last December’s galling 2-1 defeat to eventual runners-up France in their World Cup quarter-final clash in Qatar.

Les Bleus are among their main rivals for silverware next summer, with Southgate’s side stepping up preparations for the Euros with challenging March friendlies against Brazil and Belgium at Wembley.

Both opponents will provide stern tests for a team that Southgate says cannot afford to fall short of the level “they need to be at” like they were against Mediterranean minnows Malta.

“The teams we’ve got in March, we wouldn’t get away with it,” Southgate said. “And the players just would have a different level of motivation (compared to against Malta).

“This week was always going to be difficult. We’ve already qualified, the players are in the middle of a load of matches.

“We’re trying to look after a few physically with the team selection, so you’re making changes that, had we needed to win tonight to qualify, might be different.

“So, yeah, the whole week has been a little bit like that – couldn’t really get the players on the pitch until Wednesday and as a consequence we were flat. I accept that.

“That’s where we were but I’m not going to get into the players about that. I know why and they’ve won another game of football.

“It could have been by more. Not quite sure why the third (from Declan Rice) was disallowed, but there we are.”

 

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As frustrating as Friday night was at Wembley, England remain well placed for silverware in Southgate’s fourth – and quite possibly final – major tournament at the helm.

 

There is no time to waste with chances to work together limited, plus the fact Monday’s trip to Skopje looks likely to be their final match on foreign soil until the Euros get under way in June.

North Macedonia are expected to be far better than in June’s 7-0 Old Trafford annihilation and Southgate has a number of things to consider before settling on his side for the Group C finale.

“A lot of our decision-making is physical as much as anything at the moment, so it’s a strange thing,” he said.

“Probably if you’ve still got to qualify there’s a different focus on the games and everybody’s happy and understands their players have got to play.

“You’re not subconsciously thinking about ‘should we be pushing players out for another game?’

“So, we need to look at where we are after this game in terms of any knocks and bumps.

“We’ve got some fresh players to come in. We want to get the balance of the team right and then assess whether there are certain things we want to see and learn from Monday night’s game as well.”

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.”

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