It’s crunch time for Arsenal. It’s now or never for silverware. No time for plan B, for tactical changes, or error. After pushing Manchester City all the way with superb football last season, it is time for Arteta to win.
The missing piece in the Arsenal jigsaw was Declan Rice, or it seems that way. The former West Ham captain was everything to Arteta this summer, and he was very central to the Spaniards vision for this upcoming Premier League season.
The vision makes sense. The £100 million player is incomparable in his position, and Mikel Arteta will hope that the Englishman will have the same impact that Virgil Van Dijk had at Liverpool.
He joins a club which has direction, and an end goal. Declan Rice enters directly into the leadership group at the Gunners and builds on the strong English core of Bukayo Saka and Aaron Ramsdale.
So, what makes Declan Rice the perfect fit at Arsenal, and why is Arsenal the perfect club for him?
Rice is a physical player who excels defensively. He provided great stability at West Ham with the perfect balance between safe passes and marauding forward runs.
At 6’1”, Rice’s tall frame helps him in the air and in the tackle. He is a patient defender who has great positional awareness, not diving into tackles and usually timing them perfectly. He keeps up with defenders with his long strides and engages when the opportunity arises.
This trait of Rice can be identified after one game with the eye-test, as over the past 4-5 seasons at West Ham he has been extremely consistent and always fit.
The eye test matches the numbers though, as he topped the charts for his tackle win rate (69.9%) among Premier League midfielders.
This suits Arsenal perfectly, who now have Odegaard and Havertz, two more attack-minded midfielders. Rice could fill the Xhaka role perfectly as Partey tends to sit deeper in midfield, but Rice could also handle the defensive side of midfield on his own if Arteta decides to play Odegaard and Havertz.
This isn’t Rice’s only quality though, and he has become more of a box-to-box midfielder at West Ham, surging forward to support attacks. His last year at the Hammers was his highest goalscoring season in his career, a stat which has had an upwards trajectory.
The myth that Rice is only good defensively comes a lot from England fans, who see Rice deployed more defensively by Gareth Southgate. It doesn’t help that David Moyes is a defensive manager either, but this conception should change under Mikel Arteta.
Per progressive carry, Rice averages 20.8 metres, highlighting his desire to gallop forward when given the opportunity or license to.
12.4 touches in the final third per 90 minutes was a career-high for Rice last season, proving he certainly has the ability to thrive in Arsenal’s system.
He also likes to stretch the play and move the ball out wide, which works perfectly with direct wingers Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli either side of him.
Technically, it is a sweet fit for Arsenal and the system. Leadership wise, Declan Rice will become pivotal. Perhaps the biggest weapon in his artillery is the love and passion he’s shown to the Gunners so early on. He has completely been brought into Arteta’s vision.
“I genuinely feel like the next football match I will watch; I will watch it in a completely different way,” Rice said.
The midfielder has also spoken on how he is eager to improve under his new coach: “I am not going to learn it in two weeks — it is going to take some time — but once I have got it, once I add the stuff he wants to my game along with my qualities, hopefully I can improve tenfold. Let’s see where it takes me.
“I have been at West Ham before when new players come in and they can be shy, you have to make them feel welcome. I wanted to do the opposite.
“I wanted to impose myself and let them know what I am like as a person. Already, after ten days, I feel like I have known everyone my whole life.”
It isn’t just Declan Rice on ‘cloud nine’ at the moment, it’s also Mikel Arteta: “I see him like a lighthouse, that he is willing to put light in others and improve others and make the team better and that is a huge quality,” he said.
“For me, to be a midfielder you have to have that and he’s got it 100 per cent. The way he talks and presents himself, the ambition he has and the passion towards the game. That is exactly what we needed.
“It’s his leadership, his aura, the experience he already has in the league he is going to bring and the team to a different dimension I think.”
After what Declan Rice has achieved at the Hammers, it will hurt West Ham fans to see him in red and white this season. But from a personal perspective, it will be amazing to see him grow. Declan Rice deserves his chance on the big stage.