Arsenal transfers: A move for West Ham’s Declan Rice would makes sense – this is why

Arsenal have clear areas to address in the two transfer windows of 2023 when it comes to squad depth.

The need for wide reinforcements has gained importance this month, with the failed pursuit of Mykhailo Mudryk and the signing of Leandro Trossard. Midfield is next on the agenda given the big drop between the first choice of Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka and the second string that rotates out whenever Mikel Arteta changes his side.

This was reflected in the club’s summer move for West Ham Declan Rice, a move which would make sense for them on a few fronts.

More importantly, regular England starter Rice, 24, will add to their depth in midfield. Mohamed Elneny is a consistent player, as his 93 Egypt caps would suggest, but he turns 31 in July while Albert Sambi Lokonga, 23, often fails to make the mark in matches when he gets the chance. . Rice, in contrast, will be more likely to compete for a starting point.

Arsenal have tried to shore up their midfield over the past two summers, rejecting bids for Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz in 2022 after showing interest in Wolves’ Ruben Neves a year earlier.

The policy in 2021 is to sign players under the age of 23, allowing them to grow at the club. This was the window when Lokonga, then 21, arrived from Anderlecht. But the next step in Arsenal’s evolution has become clear: recruit players in their mid-20s who add both quality and experience and are ready to have a real impact on their team.

Gabriel Jesus, 25, and Oleksandr Zinchenko, now 26 but 25 when he signed, are examples of this since the summer.

Rice turns 24 on January 14 and is already done 187 Premier League appearances and leaders West Ham to the Europa League semi-finals. On top of this, he started all of England’s games at Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.

Before diving into how Rice’s traits might fit in the league leaders, one word is key.

The box-to-box role he used to play alongside Tomas Soucek for West Ham has not been replicated at Arsenal, but he has played as a No 6 in a central midfield three recently at club level and is set to do so for England. . Some of the qualities he showed at West Ham will be transferable to how Arsenal play, but some of the demands on him may be different.

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Rice’s greatest strengths are his athleticism and defensive knowledge. That will be needed, whether he is used in box-to-box integration or as a No 6, especially at Arsenal.

As Tifo’s Jon MacKenzie explained earlier this season, Arsenal’s “relaxed defence” is set to destroy teams in their own half with spaces left wide as the full-backs penetrate. Usually, it will be a center-back or No. 6 who pushed out to quickly stop the counter when possession was lost.

This is where Rice wins.

Take this example from September’s Premier League trip to Everton, where West Ham won possession during the attack. The main role of home midfielder Alex Iwobi is to take the ball up to midfield, while his teammates in claret and blue are still in the Everton area.

Having gotten himself back into position, Rice did not immediately dive. Instead of turning to play Neal Maupay on the ball, he looks at the position that Everton will try to exploit (to the left of West Ham’s defense) with Amadou Onana (whom Rice passed to reach the position shown below) ready to join in. the attack.

He covers well, he anticipates and is ready to make his tackle as the ball reaches Onana, he stops the attack before it really starts.

As Arsenal become more dominant in matches, the players’ ability to read the game in situations like that will become more important.

This is something Rice has been doing regularly and it goes beyond timing his tackles well when he appears in the middle.

He is the outfield player with the most recoveries (loose balls recovered) in the Premier League this season (181, with Manchester City’s Rodri second on 177 and Arsenal’s William Saliba a distant third on 156) and is second for interceptions (32) behind. Crystal Palace’s Cheick Doucoure (34).

What really makes it different is what happened after he made such contributions.

Went to Manchester City last season, it was already like Jesus crossing the infield…

and interceptions in front of Ilkay Gundogan easily as a result.

His first instinct after winning possession was to drive forward, but without any support he did well to dribble out of pressure and place the ball.

West Ham can settle on the ball – something Arsenal have been keen to do this season – rather than let the game become a hero-in-the-attack scenario, like a basketball game.

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If Rice senses a chance to push, however, he’ll go.

He did this for England against France in the World Cup quarter-final last month to set up a counter-attack after winning the ball in midfield. Arsenal fans may still remember running through the middle of the pitch against them in a 3-3 draw at the London Stadium in March 2021.

A strong player, the Englishman backs himself up to move the ball forward. That may be the biggest difference in style between him (playing more box-to-box) and Arsenal’s first No 6 as Partey is more of a distributor from that position.

Since the beginning of last season, Rice had the most total transports (1,032) and the highest total transport distance (11,729 meters). in the Premier League. Unsurprisingly, most of his advanced moves came in the central third, with him doing more than just passing the ball to move West Ham up the pitch. His tally of 556 ranks sixth in the Premier League since the start of last season but first among midfielders, while his 175 ranks seventh this season – first for midfielders again.

When the 24-year-old makes these runs, his close control often goes under the radar. Whether it’s to quickly turn the ball in the run before taking a shot or pass, or to make space for yourself at the start of the dribble, it’s an area of ​​your game that helps in those areas.

Given that Arsenal still use a box-to-box midfielder in Xhaka, he could also provide some tactical flexibility in regards to how that midfield is set up.

At first glance, what Rice does with the ball may cause reservations when viewed through Arsenal’s lens.

He passed into the final third with regularity, with 154 goals from 191 attempts (fifth most attempts in the Premier League this season), but these tend to be game changes against West Ham opposite full-backs.

This seems to be his go-to option rather than playing through the lines, something Arsenal players do right on the pitch, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

England put more emphasis on this with him as No 6, which was evident in that World Cup loss to France.

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Picking up a loose pass, Rice fired a brilliant forward pass to Phil Foden.

When Foden bounces the ball back to him, he assesses the situation and passes through a crowded area of ​​the pitch to Harry Kane (out of frame in the next screenshot).

Kane had Jude Bellingham running away from him, but failed to get his pass against the Borussia Dortmund player.

Twice on the fast lane, Rice looked to advance the ball and found his man both times. Not every pass that plays in an England shirt is like this, but moments like the ones above show us that it can be done.

One aspect of Partey’s game that makes him special this season is his resistance to pressure. He was the key to Martin Odegaard’s goal against Tottenham Hotspur this month as he took three players out of the game with one touch. Whether that can be fixed will be another question asked of Rice, or any other Arsenal midfielder.

As with the line breaking licenses, this is not something that Rice does on a weekly basis but has shown his views on the international level.

Again, the French game provides an example.

Harry Maguire passes to him in midfield…

…Rice goes to the ball but controls on his back foot, open to turn.

Antoine Griezmann pounced on the first move and Rice was able to drive into the unimpeded France half, before setting up England’s attack on the right.

If Arsenal’s interest ends in a move, Arteta will want these characteristics to be more evident.

As far as goals go, Rice is a genius for the Premier League leaders.

On the pitch, he excels in areas that not all midfielders can, while his limitations seem to be improving. Off the pitch, it fits the direction Arsenal are going, with the measure to do in the short term but also to improve in the long term.

January will certainly be too soon for any concrete developments. Even so, both player and club are approaching their shared goals of playing in the Champions League and finding out what will be required of them at that level.

For Arsenal, that means a competitive team with depth. For Rice, it will be an opportunity to continue to raise his game.

(Top photo: George Wood/Getty Images)


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