Arsenal has been heavily linked to Declan Rice as West Ham has a gentleman’s agreement to allow him to leave the club if the price is right. The team of Mikel Arteta appeared to be cruising to a victory that would have put them six points ahead of Manchester City with a lead of two goals. But everything changed when a player they now wish to sign as a record did some quick thinking. After spotting Kieran Tierney ready to pass to Thomas Partey deep inside the Arsenal half, Rice started running after the Ghanaian to close him down. He made it there just in time to take the ball, bring it into the box, and find the advancing Lucas Paqueta. Said Benrahma converted the ensuing penalty, which changed the game’s momentum away from Arsenal. maybe even that of the championship race. And Rice was the catalyst.
Many of the traits that made Declan Rice so desirable to Arsenal were on display during that section of play: the foresight to recognize the chance; the speed and power to get there and emerge with the ball; the calmness to set up his teammate and force the penalty. It also demonstrated how far the 24-year-old’s player development has progressed. At West Ham, Rice played center-back initially before switching to holding midfield. He is much more now, and his worth has surpassed £100 million thanks to his ability on both ends of the ball.
He has an unmatched ability to take possession, as Partey can attest. Rice recovered more balls than any other Premier League player last season, and his 334 total put him far ahead of Rodri of Manchester City in second place. With 63, seven more than the next closest competitor, he also made the most interceptions. The ball-winning skills Rice has, together with his physical strength and the caliber of his delivery over short and long distances, make him an ideal No 6 in Arteta’s system. Rice has previously played with Tomas Soucek in a double pivot at West Ham.
Partey has only two years left on his contract, has just turned 30 years old, and has a history of injuries despite still playing a key role at the basis of Arteta’s midfield. Rice, on the other hand, is still developing at the age of 24, and he has also shown great toughness by participating in 93 percent of West Ham’s Premier League games over the past five seasons. Only 71 percent of Arsenal’s games in the previous three featured Partey. Arteta signed Jorginho in January as a temporary replacement since he understands he cannot continue to rely on Partey’s health. However, Rice would bring more than just reliability and toughness to the job. His skill at carrying the ball is another.
Rice placed second only to Rodri for total carries last season, yet no one carried the ball farther in terms of distance, according to data from Second Spectrum, which defines a carry as “a touch event where the ball carrier travels 10 meters or more while in possession.” Even more astounding is the fact that almost 70% of Rice’s carries were classified as “pressured,” implying that opponents were trying to take the ball away from him. One thing is to try; another is to succeed. In the quarterfinals of the Europa Conference League, Rice of the Belgian team Gent learned this lesson when he carried the ball out of his own half and slid past three defenders to score an incredible solo goal.
There were plenty of such domestic examples. He successfully avoided 214 opposing defenders during carries during the Premier League season, which is the fourth-highest number in the competition. Arsenal’s deep-lying midfield alternatives do not presently possess Rice’s ability to outrun opponents and break lines with the ball at his feet, which would allow Arteta’s club to inflict harm on opponents in a new way. But what makes Rice’s newfound ability to capitalize in the attacking third any more alluring? Since the start of the 2021/22 season, he has scored 10 goals, including the one he scored against Gent. One of his game’s most significant areas of improvement is his attacking output.
His figures for chances created, final-third passes, and shots per 90 minutes have all progressively climbed since switching from defense to midfield under Manuel Pellegrini at the start of the 2018–19 season, peaking last term. In addition to deploying him as a No. 6, Arteta will probably feel confident that he could play in the left-sided No. 8 position shortly to be vacated by Granit Xhaka, whose leadership he could also assist to replace. This is partially due to his changed threat.
Last season, Moyes’ team averaged just 41 percent of the ball, third-lowest in the division, compared to 60 percent for Arsenal, which necessitated a defensive concentration. But it’s important to remember that Rice, who was second only to Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Brighton’s Pascal Gross in terms of distance traveled, demonstrating his ability to play as a box-to-box midfielder, is also a key component in how they attack.
It’s not difficult to picture Rice linking defense and attack in a similar way for Arsenal as they look to fortify their left flank to the same degree as their right, where the duo of Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka has thrived. Declan Rice would offer Arsenal steadiness off the ball wherever he is played, that much is clear. The former Chelsea prospect has improved year after year defensively while also honing his offensive side of the game in recent seasons.
While he actually made fewer tackles last season than in three of the previous four seasons, he really improved in one-on-one situations, as seen by the decrease in the frequency with which he gets dribbled past from year to year. In the previous season, which was his debut as a midfielder, it happened only 0.55 times per 90 minutes, a threefold decrease from the previous year. For comparison, during the 2022–23 season, Partey and Rodri have dribbled past around twice as frequently per 90 minutes.
Declan Rice and his versatility allows him to fill a variety of roles, which is ultimately another essential quality for Arteta, who has been working to make Arsenal tactically flexible from the beginning of his tenure. Since then, he has increased the importance he placed on adaptability to the point that, while announcing the recruitment of five of their past six key players, from Gabriel Jesus to Leandro Trossard, it was one of the first traits he emphasized. Now that Moises Caicedo has also been targeted, the pattern appears to be continuing. Arsenal is hoping that Rice, whose rapid decision-making at the London Stadium swung the momentum away from them in the title chase last season, may in the future assist push them over the finish line.
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