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

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

The need for reinforcements widely took priority this month, with the failure of the pursuit of Mykhailo Modric and the signing of Leandro Trossard. The central midfield is next on the agenda given the huge drop between the first-choice trio of Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka and the second that rolls around whenever Mikel Arteta rotates his side.

This has been evident in the club’s planning of a summer move for West Ham side Declan Rice, a transfer that will make sense for them on a few fronts.

Most importantly, England regular Rice, 24, will add more depth in midfield. Mohamed Elneny is a consistent player, as his 93 appearances for Egypt indicate, but he will turn 31 in July, while Albert Sambi Lokonga, 23, often fails to make an impression in matches when he plays. In contrast, Rice is likely to contest the starting spot.

Arsenal have tried to bolster their midfield in the past two summers, after Douglas Luiz was rejected for Aston Villa in 2022 after he showed interest in Robin Neves from Wolves a year ago.

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

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

Rice turned 24 on January 14 and she has already done so 187 matches in the English Premier League and its captain West Ham qualified for the semi-finals of the Europa League. Moreover, he has started all England matches in Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022.

Before we delve into how Rice’s traits fit stylistically with the league leaders, some context is key.

The square-to-box role he usually plays in pairing with Tomas Soucek for West Ham is not replicated at Arsenal, but he has played the number 6 third midfield role recently at club level and also tends to do so for England. Some of the strengths he displays at West Ham will be transferable to Arsenal’s way of playing, but some of the demands on him may differ.

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Rice’s biggest strengths are his athleticism and defensive awareness. It will be needed, whether used in a square-to-square pairing or as a number 6, especially at Arsenal.

As Tifo’s John McKenzie explained earlier this season, Arsenal’s “comfort defence” is set up to stifle teams in their own half while leaving wide spaces with full-backs included. 6 that pushes out to quickly stop the counters when possession is lost.

This is where Rice excels.

Take this example from the September Premier League trip to Everton, where West Ham were stripped while attacking. Midfielder Alex Iwobi’s first order of business has been to play the ball until halfway, while his orange and blue counterparts remain in the Everton area.

Having regained his position, Rice does not sink right away. Instead of turning around to field Neil Maupay on the ball, he looks at the space Everton will try to exploit (to the left of West Ham’s stretched defence) with Amadou Onana (whom Rice ran close to to reach the position seen below) ready to join the attack.

He covers well, anticipates the pass and is ready to make a tackle when the ball reaches Onana, stopping the attack before it really begins.

As Arsenal become more dominant in matches, the players’ ability to read the play in such situations will become more important.

This is something Rice already does on a regular basis and extends beyond just timing his tackles well when left exposed in midfield.

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

What really sets it apart is what happens After, after make such interventions.

Away from Manchester City last season, he’s already on the move as Jesus makes his pass…

…and being intercepted by Ilkay Gundogan with ease as a result.

His first instinct after possession is to push forward, but without any support he does a good job of dribbling off pressure and moving the ball around.

West Ham could settle the ball – something Arsenal have tended to do this season – rather than allow play to become a frenzied have-you-have-we-attack scenario, like a game of basketball.

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However, if Rice feels there is an opportunity to move on, he will go.

He did it for England against France in the World Cup quarter-finals last month to set up a counter-attack after winning the ball in the halfway line. Arsenal fans may also remember his run in the middle of the field against them in the 3-3 draw at the London Stadium in March 2021.

A powerful player, the Englishman supports himself to carry the ball forward. This may be the biggest stylistic contrast between him (playing more box-to-box) and Arsenal’s starting number 6 as Partey is more of a distributor than this position.

since the start of last season, Cedar has the highest number of carrying distances (1,032) and the highest total carrying distance (11,729 metres). in the Premier League. Unsurprisingly, most of his progressive passing is in the middle third, where he makes more work than the ball to move West Ham up the field. His tally of 556 ranks sixth in the NL since the start of last season but first among quarterbacks, while his 175 ranks seventh this season – first for quarterbacks again.

When the 24-year-old performs these duties, his precise control is often under the radar. Whether it’s moving the ball quickly on the run before shooting or passing it wide, or to make room for himself at the start of the dribble, it’s an area of ​​his game that helps in those areas.

Given that Arsenal also use a midfielder in Xhaka, it could also provide some tactical flexibility in terms of how they set up their midfield.

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

passes to the last third more or less regularly, With 154 tries successful from 191 attempts (5th most in the Premier League this season)And But these tend to be substitution play to the full-back opposite West Ham.

This seems to be the option to move rather than play across the lines, something Arsenal players do across the pitch, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it.

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

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Recovering a lost pass, Rice fired a nice forehand volley to Phil Foden.

When Foden bounced the ball back to him, he assessed the situation and passed a pass through a crowded area of ​​the field to Harry Kane (off frame in the following screenshot).

Kane has Jude Bellingham running away from him, but he fails to pass it to the Borussia Dortmund midfielder.

Twice in quick succession, Rice looked to advance the ball and found his man on both occasions. Not every pass he plays in an England shirt is like this, but moments like the one above show us he can do it.

One aspect of Barty’s play that has made him important this season is his press resistance. This was key to Martin Odegaard’s goal against Tottenham Hotspur this month in which he knocked three players out of the game with one touch. Whether that can be repeated will be another question for Rice, or any other target for Arsenal’s midfield.

As with line-breaking passes, this isn’t something Rice does on a weekly basis but he’s shown glimpses of it internationally.

Once again, the France game provides a case in point.

Harry Maguire passes him in the middle of the road…

… Rice moves toward the ball but controls his back foot, opening for a turn.

Antoine Griezmann jumps in on the first move and Rice is able to get close to France’s half without confrontation, before launching England’s attack down the right.

If Arsenal’s interest is to end in a transfer, Arteta will want those traits to become more apparent.

As far as goals go, Rice makes sense for the Premier League leaders.

On the field, he excels in areas that not all midfielders can, while his limitations look like they could be improved upon. Off the pitch, he fits the direction Arsenal are heading in, with room for performance in the short term but also for improvement in the longer term.

January will definitely be too early for any concrete developments. However, both the player and the club are getting closer to their common goals of playing in the Champions League and finding what is required of them at that level.

For Arsenal, this means a deeply competitive side. For Rice, it will be an opportunity to continue raising his game.

(Top photo: George Wood/Getty Images)



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