Throughout the hundreds of games I have covered, few moments have given me more satisfaction than Declan Rice’s winning goal for West Ham against Arsenal.
This is a player who has bounced back from rejection at a young age to become one of the brightest prospects in the Premier League.
I have followed Declan’s career for some time. He first caught my eye as a centre back in Chelsea’s academy. He reminded me of a young John Terry — assured in possession, strong in the air and a good communicator — but at 14 he was released.
Declan Rice’s winning goal for West Ham against Arsenal was the moment of the season for me
Rice, who was released by Chelsea, shows that you should never give up on your dreams
That kind of setback has destroyed many a promising player but not Declan. He went to West Ham, knuckled down and within three years was making his senior debut.
Even this season, he has shown he is a fast learner. He looked like a fish out of water in defensive midfield at Anfield on the opening weekend of the season, when Liverpool dragged him all over the pitch.
Clearly seeing that Rice has the attributes to thrive as a midfielder, Manuel Pellegrini has helped him be more disciplined in that position.
Pellegrini worked with Fernandinho at Manchester City. While Rice still has much to learn, against Arsenal he played like the Brazilian at his best.
There is much talk about Marko Arnautovic, but West Ham did well to secure Rice’s future
Rice read the game superbly, picked pockets throughout and made some crucial blocks. His winning goal was the icing on the cake.
After the ball rifled into the Arsenal net, you could see the joy written all over his face. All the heartache, all the disappointment that led to this moment will have made it all the sweeter.
For West Ham fans, Rice’s performance was nothing new. Scoring the winner against a top-six side means his talents have been showcased more widely.
Marko Arnautovic’s future has been discussed all week but tying Rice down to a five-and-a-half-year deal is the best business West Ham could have done.
It was a privilege to be at the London Stadium to witness his maiden strike. Keep up these brilliant displays and the Premier League’s top sides will start circling.
The new year is always a tough time for academy players. Clubs will be weighing up who they will keep on and, come March and April, many youngsters will have their hopes dashed.
Those who are tempted to give up on their dreams only need to look at Declan Rice. His rise is an example of why you should never give up on your dreams.
No Mesut Ozil, no creative spark
Unai Emery may have his issues with Mesut Ozil but without him, who supplies the creativity in this Arsenal team?
Looking at both matchday squads on Saturday, there was little to separate Arsenal and West Ham.
Until Aaron Ramsey — a player whose days are numbered at the club — came off the bench, Arsenal lacked a creative spark. This defeat came after a week in which Emery admitted he can only bring in players on loan. If Arsenal are not going to invest, they simply cannot afford to leave out Ozil.
Emery wants him to work harder without the ball, but in Ozil’s absence Arsenal looked toothless in possession.
Without Mesut Ozil in the team, Unai Emery’s Arsenal are devoid of any creativity
Now Marcus Rashford has the swagger of a main man
For the first time in his career, Marcus Rashford is playing like he truly belongs in a Manchester United shirt.
Earlier in the season he was in and out of the team and that led to inconsistent performances in front of goal. He looked better for England than he did for United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has put his trust in Rashford, given him a run in the team and is now reaping the rewards.
There is a swagger, an arrogance about the way Rashford leads the line. He no longer hestitates when put through on goal. As he raced on to Paul Pogba’s brilliant pass at Wembley, you could see in Rashford’s eyes that he knew he would hit the net.
All of a sudden, Romelu Lukaku must be wondering how on earth he gets back into this team.
Marcus Rashford is now playing like he truly belongs in a Manchester United shirt
Much has been made of the fact that Jorginho has played 1,997 passes for Chelsea without making a single assist, but he should not be judged on whether or not he creates goals.
It is the players in front of him — Willian, Pedro, Eden Hazard — who are there to make assists.
Jorginho has never been a prolific creator. In his five years at Napoli, his best tally for assists was four. His job is to shield the defence, win the ball and feed the creativity in front of him.
Chelsea midfielder Jorginho shouldn’t be judged on whether or not he creates goals
Having scored a paltry six goals at Selhurst Park all season, Crystal Palace are crying out for a striker.
Christian Benteke came off the bench in the defeat by Watford to make his first appearance since September and, after a barren 18 months, it is time he started to deliver.
Palace are not the only team desperate for firepower. Roy Hodgson needs to find a way to get Benteke firing.
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson needs to find a way to get Christian Benteke firing