• Fri. May 24th, 2024

Arsenal signing ‘England’s next captain’ Declan Rice is a game changing flex which resets the landscape

Bynewsmagzines

Jun 30, 2023
Arsenal signing 'England's next captain' Declan Rice is a game changing flex which resets the landscape

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Transformative.

It’s a word which best describes the last 12 months for Arsenal, at first on the pitch and now, with just as much excitement, off it too.

Arsenal boss Arteta will be a happy man going into the new Premier League season

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Arsenal boss Arteta will be a happy man going into the new Premier League seasonCredit: Getty

Big progress and big moves have been made, and by winning the race for Declan Rice’s signature the club has delivered a cosmic statement of intent.

In-demand A-list players in their prime, like Rice, just haven’t been attainable for Arsenal across the last 20 years. Not since oligarch and oil state money began flooding into the Premier League, anyway.

A six-year exile from the Champions League didn’t help, but in a footballing and financial sense the Gunners have not been as attractive as some of their domestic and European rivals.

Yet this week they convinced England’s next captain to commit his best years to Arsenal – effectively outmuscling Bayern Munich and Manchester City in the process – by spending £100million plus.

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More than just a signing, that’s a game changing flex which resets the landscape.

No wonder every Gooner you bump into is buzzing with excitement.

With Kai Havertz leaving Chelsea to become a new member of Arsenal’s upwardly mobile family too, Mikel Arteta’s midfield will undergo a makeover ahead of the new campaign.

Did they need to upgrade in this manner? In my opinion, yes.

Rice will bolster Arsenal's midfield

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Rice will bolster Arsenal’s midfieldCredit: Getty
Havertz will also be a key addition as Xhaka leaves Arsenal

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Havertz will also be a key addition as Xhaka leaves ArsenalCredit: AFP

While Arsenal’s engine room was superb for much of 2022/23, it came up short for strength in depth, elite level athleticism, and defensive reliability.

When opponents pressed them with aggression inside the middle third, especially late on in the season, when minds and bodies were tiring, cracks appeared.

A lack of top-level power in midfield will cost you against the best sides, and this was brutally exposed by treble winners Manchester City, who trampled all over Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka in a defining 4-1 loss at the Etihad.

Partey’s sluggish performance and failure to track Kevin de Bruyne’s run for the opening goal was concerning, especially after he’d been caught in possession by Declan Rice for a costly goal in a 2-2 draw at West Ham. Trust was lost.

Xhaka and Partey are

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Xhaka and Partey areCredit: Getty

Rice, six years Partey’s junior, upgrades that position significantly.

In possession the England midfielder is good enough to replicate his passing range and ball-carrying qualities. He travelled 7.1km with it last season, the fourth longest distance of any top-flight player.

At regaining the ball, Rice is a class apart.

Covering the ground brilliantly he made more ball recoveries than any other midfielder last term (334), and 140 of those regains came when dropping back into the defensive third. No other engine room players came close to matching that figure.

Rice starred last season for West Ham

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Rice starred last season for West Ham

Rice is also a terrific presser, a trait that fits in perfectly with Arteta’s style, stepping forward to make a division-high 63 interceptions.

If Arsenal win the ball more effectively this season (as they should do now) they’ll create better chances for their front men.

Could Rice also be deployed as a box-to-box midfielder? I think so. He drives forward well and has goals in his locker.

In tougher tests, home and abroad, I can envisage Rice and Martin Odegaard playing either side of an alternative holding midfielder. And in that set up he could slide across when necessary to form a double pivot, protecting the back four.

Rice showcased his box-to-box ability in West Ham's clash with Leeds in May and even got on the scoresheet

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Rice showcased his box-to-box ability in West Ham’s clash with Leeds in May and even got on the scoresheet
And in the same game Rice showed his passing range too

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And in the same game Rice showed his passing range too

When you factor in his leadership and international experience too, I firmly believe Arsenal have recruited one of the world’s best all-round central midfielders.

And don’t forget, Rice has reached this level without working with a coach as progressive as Mikel Arteta in his career to date. There is more development to come.

As for Kai Havertz, he is a clever acquisition.

The German was badly misused by Chelsea as a week-in, week-out centre forward, and Arteta will put that right by deploying him as a multi-functional attacking midfielder.

But a legend for just three seasons before joining Arsenal

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But a legend for just three seasons before joining ArsenalCredit: Getty

The Gunners line up in a 4-3-3, but when they press it becomes 4-4-2, and when they build from the back it’s a 3-2-5.

With interchangeable movement at the heart of their success, footballers who are intelligent, mobile, and comfortable sliding into different roles are priceless. For me, that is the real Havertz.

If he fills Granit Xhaka’s left No.8 slot, the German will end up wide, deep, or up front at any given time when the forwards rotate. And he’ll love that because it means he will be a nightmare for opponents to pick up in the half-spaces, or inside the box.

Havertz made 876 attacking runs last season, the third most of any Premier League player. Surrounded by Odegaard, Saka, Jesus and Martinelli you’d expect him to be picked out plenty of times.

In the earlier stages of last season, Havertz showed his all-round ability with Chelsea covering large areas of the pitch

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In the earlier stages of last season, Havertz showed his all-round ability with Chelsea covering large areas of the pitch

The German’s strength in the air is also worth noting. Ten of Havertz’s 32 goals for the Blues came via his head, and this was a weak spot for his new club who attempted just 65 headed efforts last season, ranking them 16th.

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Yes, it has cost them a few quid, but shaving 12 years off two key positions in central midfield, adding a pair of athletic, high-class, vastly experienced, Premier League ready talents with their best years ahead of them makes total sense.

To me, Arsenal have played an absolute blinder. This hungry young Gunners side has just got stronger.

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