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Why did Arsenal sign Declan Rice, and what does he offer?

Declan Rice

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is no stranger to spending money in the transfer market. This summer alone, Arteta has already splashed out more than £208 million on a trio of players, including Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber, and Declan Rice. Of the three, Rice cost £105m on his own, and the fee makes him one of the top 10 most expensive transfer signings in football history.

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Rice’s departure from West Ham was an almost certainty after the England international led the Hammers to the Europa Conference League trophy in June. His destination wasn’t quite clear, with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United all linked with a transfer. In the end, Arsenal landed the versatile midfielder, and expectations are high that Rice can help the Gunners land their first Premier League title since 2003-04.

Why did Arsenal sign Declan Rice?

Arsenal are getting a midfielder entering the prime of his career. Rice is 24 and won’t celebrate his next birthday until January 2024. Barring injuries or his form falling off a cliff (Harry Maguire?), Arsenal could have Rice for the next six to eight seasons.

Despite being praised for their work, Chelsea’s academy still isn’t sure how Rice got away as a teenager. He was released in 2013 as a 14-year-old after being told he was simply not good enough to be in Chelsea’s academy. The midfielder later joined West Ham after a successful trial. Rice’s departure from Cobham shows the hit-and-miss nature of academy football in England.

The West Ham academy graduate compiled 245 games for West Ham after making his senior debut in 2017. Along with being a versatile midfielder, Rice is incredibly dependable. He missed a mere one game due to injury during his West Ham career. Even then, Rice wasn’t out of action due to an injury, rather it was because of illness in 2019. The former West Ham captain simply doesn’t miss games.

What does Declan Rice offer Arsenal?

Rice will step into the starting XI for the recently departed Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international signed for Bayer Leverkusen, making room for Rice in midfield. Xhaka may have had his best season in an Arsenal shirt in 2022-23, as the Gunners chased the Premier League title, but he was never dependable. Not only was Xhaka a suspension risk, but the long-time Arsenal man succumbed to frequent injuries while playing at the Emirates. He missed 44 games due to injuries or suspension in all competitions during a seven-year career with the Gunners.

Arteta has always craved a player of Rice’s quality in midfield. He can play as a No 6 or No 8, giving the Gunners defensive solidity or attacking mobility. Rice has never been a major goal contributor in the league. He achieved a career-best last season, scoring four Premier League goals. Those numbers could increase at Arsenal, depending on how far forward Arteta wants Rice to play.

Xhaka’s numbers in 2022-23 should be an indication of Rice’s potential in an Arsenal jersey. The Swiss midfielder scored seven league goals and added seven league assists. While Xhaka was dangerous with dead balls, Rice won’t be expected to take free kicks. Still, the England international will have more chances than ever before in the final third.

Playing for Arsenal will mean Rice can play on the front foot more often. Last season, West Ham battled relegation for much of the campaign due to the club’s Conference League commitments. It was only in the final months of the season that the Hammers’ form improved, and they moved away from the relegation scrap. The Gunners will be expected to fight for the title once more, but it will be a difficult season, as Liverpool and Chelsea should be much better than last term.

Where will Declan Rice play in the Arsenal team?

Rice appeared in 37 league games for West Ham in 2022-23, posting an average of 2.1 tackles, 1.7 interceptions, 1.0 key passes, and 56.3 passes per game, according to WhoScored.com. Although rumours continue to link Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey with a transfer to Saudi Arabia, the former Atletico Madrid man is set to stay at the Emirates.

Arsenal could have a Rice-Partey next season, with the two midfielders playing as a double six. Last season, Rice trumped Partey in most statistics, including games played, goals, assists, progressive carries, progressive passes, tackles, and interceptions. Rice is a major improvement on Arsenal’s midfield, and the former West Ham captain should make the players around him better.

Arteta likes to play a 4-3-3 formation. At times, he has used two holding midfielders, with one pushing forward, as a No 8. Against Wolves on the final day of the 2022-23 season, Arteta deployed Jorginho at the base of a three-man midfield, Xhaka on the right side, and Martin Odegaard on the left.

Arteta has used a 4-2-3-1 formation before, utilising two holding midfielders and a creative No 10 in front of them. He could revert to the formation, but last season’s results are likely to keep Arsenal playing a 4-3-3 attacking style of football.

Regardless of the formation, Rice can slot into the side seamlessly. West Ham played both 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 last season. In the former, Rice typically played on the left side and in the latter, he was the base of the three-man midfield.

The stats and adaptability of Rice make him an ideal signing for Arsenal, but above all else, it is the intangibles that set Rice apart from his contemporaries. Rice’s work ethic is top-notch on the training ground, and it bleeds over into matchdays. He is also a leader on and off the pitch. Odegaard was named Arsenal captain last season, but it may not be long before Rice is pulling on the armband.

Arsenal’s interest in Rice didn’t suddenly appear this offseason. It is claimed Arsenal wanted to sign him in January to push for the league title. West Ham were in no mood to do a deal.

The Gunners have signed a player for the present and the future. Rice has come to a perfect boil and will improve the Gunner’s midfield from day No 1. Arteta’s additions are taking Arsenal closer to the Premier League title off the pitch. But after coming so close last season, winning the trophy this campaign may be even more difficult.

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