In many ways, Arsenal are in the unknown here.
After Manchester City unexpectedly challenged for the 2022-23 Premier League title until the end of the season, they have now agreed a £105 million ($133m) fee for West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice topped City’s £90m offer for .
This was Arsenal’s third bid for the England international this window. All are well considering their current record outgoing transfer fee of £72million for Nicolas Pepe in August 2019, and they represent a few things about the club’s approach to next season.
First of all, Rice has always been Arsenal’s main target. Secondly, manager Mikel Arteta’s frequent rhetoric at press conferences this summer to “finish recruitment” is understandable And Backed by the board – who have approved a record-breaking payment for a British player.
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The heights to which Arsenal are willing to go in relation to the fee for Rice may confound some, but from the club’s point of view, offloading the West Ham captain in this window is essential.
Why? Several factors have become apparent from the evolution of their recruiting strategy over the past two summers. Signing experienced players in their mid-twenties this time last year was key to Arsenal raising their standards as they embark on ‘Project Youth 2.0’ in the 2021-22 season.
Rice serves as a continuation of last summer’s strategy as the 24-year-old has started all 12 of England’s games in the last two major tournaments, starting 93 per cent (190) of his 204 league appearances for West Ham and carried them forward. Win the Europa Conference League Final last month.
With all this, he is another player whose attributes make himself suitable for more than one role, although the impending signing of Kai Havertz from Chelsea – who will likely fill the left-back No.8 role for Arteta – will open up Rice’s slot to No. Will see as 6.
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With those pieces of the jigsaw in mind, Rice is one of very few options with the attributes and quality to rival the league’s best in that role.
In a West Ham shirt, he has increasingly become a box-to-box midfielder, moving forward with the ball, but still has the experience to play in a deeper role for both him and England. Rice’s defensive attributes (mostly his anticipation and timing of tackles) stand out immediately when watching him. That matches up with the eye-test numbers: last season his actual tackle win rate (reflecting tackles and lost challenges and fouls committed) was among the highest in the Premier League (69.9 percent from 113 actual tackles or per 1,000 opposition touches In 4.2) central and defensive midfielder.
For context, pairing up with Tomas Soucek for most of last season at West Ham, Rice didn’t have to defend in midfield on his own but excelled when called upon. Everton’s Amadou Onana and Leeds United’s Tyler Adams were in similar positions to Rice, as part of the midfield group of the bottom half teams. Onana had a 67 percent actual tackle winning rate from 103 actual tackles, or 5.64 per 1,000 opposition touches, while Adams had a 64.5 percent actual tackle winning rate from 138 actual tackles, or 8.84 per 1,000 opposition touches.
Declan Rice, Dissected
Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey played his role well for most of last season, despite a drop in form in April.
In 33 appearances, his actual tackle winning rate from 115 actual tackles was 58.3 percent, or 8.12 per 1,000 opposition touches. This often contributed to Arsenal’s ability to dominate teams by playing a high line and keeping the ball in the attacking half, whether or not they had possession of the ball. Again for comparison, Manchester City’s Rodri had an actual tackle winning rate of 117 actual tackles, at 56.4 percent, or a slightly lower 7.47 per 1,000 opposition touches.
In a different area of midfield, Rice will be relied upon more but he has a good past success rate. The added protection at the back of the pitch could allow Arsenal’s more advanced midfielders even more freedom than in previous seasons, which would work well with Havertz’s off-ball movement or the inclusion of Emile Smith Rowe in a more central role. Could
What happens in Rice’s possession as an Arsenal player is somewhat unknown.
Some may see it as a risk to sign for a fee in excess of £100million, who, like many of Arteta’s players, will be making his Champions League debut.
With West Ham, Rice is more likely to switch the ball out to the wings, which could be useful with Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka out wide. Arsenal are more accustomed to their number 6, whether it is Partey or last January signing Jorginho, feeding vertical passes through the lines. Rice did this several times for England at the World Cup in November and December, but was more progressive as well as measured at the right times to give Arsenal breathing time in some matches – for example, 2–0 Jorginho in a victory over Newcastle United in early May – a potential area for development.
As for a more deliberate span of possession, patience may be needed if they are asking Rice to replicate what Partey has done in that role over the past two seasons. However, Arsenal’s pursuit of Ajax defender Jurien Timber could help the case. Last season, Ben White didn’t create the same amount of reverse from right-back that Oleksandr Zinchenko did from left-back. White occasionally offered that support from the inside, but had a tendency to stay in the same line as centre-backs William Saliba and Gabriel in the build-up before moving on to overlap or underlap Saka.
If Timbers does hint at filling in at right-back with a slightly different interpretation of White’s role, in which he reverses like Zinchenko, Rice will have options on both sides of him as well as through lines, which should be more interesting. Arsenal’s game can provide development.
Jurien Timber: masterful on the ball and a brilliant passer – no wonder Arsenal want him
Arsenal’s last two summer windows have been about squad building. This one is no different. However, they are now at a stage where adding multiple quality options in one spot is essential to diversifying their game further as they move forward compared to last season.
Rice is a key ingredient in Arsenal lifting themselves on either count. Arteta knew it, sporting director Edu Gaspar knew it and that’s why he worked so hard.
Arsenal do not want last season to be a one-sided affair, and getting close to signing their primary target before July begins perhaps indicates that will not be the case.
(Photo: Catherine Iville/Getty Images)