Man City have paid Arsenal an enormous compliment with their half-arsed entry to the Declan Rice Saga

Dave Tickner
Reported Arsenal targets Ilkay Gundogan and Declan Rice during a match

Manchester City have paid Arsenal the ultimate compliment.

They now deem them sufficiently bothersome to include in their list of clubs in whose transfer business they are ready and willing to meddle.

It’s a big deal, and a position historically reserved for Chelsea and Manchester United. The tactics are relatively straightforward: City enter the fray for a player they wouldn’t mind signing but are not really all that arsed about in the grand scheme; sometimes they just get bored and want to play with the smaller children.

City usually end up pulling out of the race, leaving Chelsea or United to ‘win’ the battle but at a vastly inflated price. Think of your Maguires, your Freds, your Cucurellas, or the Alexis Sanchezes off this world. City have their fun and then back off, with history generally proving them pretty much correct while the team that lands their target nurses a bruised balance sheet and the niggling suspicion that actually, they won nothing at all.

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes City end up with a Kalvin Phillips. But that doesn’t really do any harm and in any case they’ve had their fun and that’s all that matters.

Now Arsenal are in the crosshairs. It’s a sign of just how far they’ve come in the last 12 months under Mikel Arteta. A year ago, City and Pep Guardiola saw Arsenal as nothing more than potentially useful disruptors, a club who could be trusted with a couple of battle-hardened title winners who had become surplus to Etihad requirements but might at Arsenal prove capable of making life more awkward for Liverpool, United and Chelsea.

Turns out that what Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko did was in fact make life more difficult for City right up until the moment that they didn’t. All’s well that ends well, but City are not taking that kind of chance again. Arsenal are now to be treated seriously.

And that means making them pay as much as possible for Declan Rice, who City neither particularly want nor need. If they did, their first offer would not have been largely identical to Arsenal’s already rejected opening salvo. This is no gazumping. Barely even an attempted hijacking.

Arsenal won’t really care at this stage. As well as the compliment it was also largely predictable and surely factored in to their own approach. It’ll be a bit annoying to have to pay top whack, but at the same time you’d almost be more worried if you got a totally free run at a £100m homegrown England international who is very precisely what you need. It would suggest something was amiss.

It isn’t amiss. Arsenal will not get a free run at Rice, and they certainly won’t have expected one. They will almost certainly still sign him but will have to expend more resources – money, time, effort, just general bloody hassle – to do so now City have inserted themselves into the equation.

The difference between this and other City mischief is that Rice will almost certainly succeed wherever he goes. There is almost no reason to think he won’t. It’s unlikely he’d end up like poor old Kalvin if City do accidentally sign him, and he’ll most likely be brilliant for Arsenal if they do eventually get their man.

Maybe City are just bored. Certainly it’s not as much fun toying with Chelsea nowadays, arch chaos agent Todd Boehly having shrewdly big-brained his way out of the orbit of such City antics by needing absolutely no external help whatsoever to excitedly overpay for vaguely unnecessary player acquisitions and also having the team finish in the bottom half of the table where City can’t even see them let alone care.

United have gone the other way, boringly if adroitly refusing to even bother in transfers that are going to be an absolute arse-ache – extricating Harry Kane from Daniel Levy’s clutches, for instance – after last summer’s long-running, crowd-pleasing Frenkie De Jong farce.

Who else does this leave to toy with if not Arsenal? Liverpool generally don’t bite when City try it on, Spurs are Spurs and Newcastle are now the one team in world football with whom City can’t really be entering into a financial pissing contest.

Sensible, process-driven Arsenal it is then. Declan Rice is going to cost you all the money.

It’s all good, clean fun and someone ends up with a fine player at the end of it all. Even West Ham are winners, securing as they have the bidding war they always needed to make sure they got the right price for their talismanic captain.

Who knows, maybe West Ham will reinvest their winnings so wisely that this time next year City are titting about in the Hammers’ summer plans just to pass the long, empty days before another season of relentless dominance?