Over the weekend, Declan Rice made his long-awaited move to Arsenal, as the club invested a reported £105 million to secure his services.
One of the most protracted transfer sagas in recent times reached fever pitch when news broke of Manchester City entering the fray. Arsenal, known for their reluctance to engage in bidding wars, faced the looming inevitability of their number one target ending up at the deep-pocketed Etihad.
However, The Gunners leveraged their own financial muscle with a favourable payment instalment plan, as well as the allure of their N5 postcode and trusted the groundwork already laid by Mikel Arteta and Edu to emerge victorious in the battle for one of the most sought-after midfielders in world football.
In 2017, Rice made his West Ham debut in the final game of the season, a reward from Slaven Bilic for captaining the U23s to promotion. Since then, the Englishman has become a permanent fixture in The Hammers’ first team, featuring in 30+ league games for the past five consecutive seasons.
Throughout these years, his role has evolved. While initially tasked with anchoring the midfield, Rice has demonstrated versatility by spending more time further up the pitch to contribute more offensively, effectively operating as a box-to-box midfielder while never hiding from the ball.
2,475 – the number of times Declan Rice touched the ball during the 2022-23 season. Only Gabriel (2,776) and Benjamin White (2,532) registered more touches in an Arsenal shirt.
During the early stages of his career, he faced criticism, labelled in some circles as a ‘safety net’ passer – someone who retrieves the ball and swiftly distributes it to others for more progressive play. However, Rice has emerged as one of the league’s most dynamic and forward-thinking passers.
‘Deep completions’ refer to passes and crosses executed during open play, originating from outside the shaded zone (as depicted above), that successfully find a teammate within the same zone, covering a minimum ball movement of 5 metres.
Arsenal ranked 2nd in the league last season for the above metric, while West Ham found themselves in 19th. Given this context, it is impressive that Rice’s output is on par with that of his new teammates. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that his numbers will only improve in the future.
Stylistically, Rice exhibits the ability to execute line-breaking passes similar to Granit Xhaka, while also contributing effectively to the team’s build-up play, much like Thomas Partey. In essence, he combines many of the possession-based qualities displayed by these two players into one.
87% – Out of his 2,135 attempted passes in the previous season, Rice successfully completed 1,846. More than double the number achieved by any of his teammates.
240 – 11% of those attempted passes were progressive (ranked 1st for West Ham), covering an average distance of 284 yards towards the opponent’s goal per game (ranked 1st for West Ham); this total distance covered was only surpassed by White, Gabriel and William Saliba.
607 – Forward passes. Rice stood 3rd among midfielders in the Premier League last season, trailing behind only Bruno Fernandes and Rodri.
Yet it’s his ability to carry the ball from deep, after winning it back, that might have the biggest impact on a midfield that often lacked Rice’s capability to drive at the opposition, turning defence into attack. Although his numbers were somewhat influenced by West Ham’s transition-heavy approach under Moyes, they remain highly impressive.
315 – Rice recorded 315 progressive carries last season, a total that surpassed all other Arsenal midfielders. He also covered the most distance with the ball (5,152 yards) among all midfielders in Europe.
35 – Despite his role as a holding midfielder, Rice completed an average of 1.73 dribbles per 90 minutes (ranking 5th among West Ham players). Even when faced with pressure, he demonstrates both the bravery and the ability to navigate past opponents and play his way out of the opposition’s press, consistently driving his team forward.
However, where Declan Rice truly excels is in his ability to break up play, halt counterattacks, and exhibit his top-level game-reading skills. His exceptional anticipation, decision-making, and positioning are truly world-class, providing a level of protection that will enable Arsenal to push forward and commit the numbers Arteta seeks in attack.
3 – Rice was one of only three players (alongside Stijn Spierings (336) and Rodri (301)) to win possession 300+ times in Europe’s Top 5 Leagues last season.
63 – No player made more interceptions than Rice domestically last season.
62% – Out of the 50 attempted dribbles he faced, Rice successfully prevented 31, placing him in the 98th percentile among midfielders.
204 – Declan Rice is the youngest current Premier League player with more than 200 appearances in the competition.
At only 24 years old, Rice has already amassed an impressive 245 appearances for West Ham. He was named captain following Mark Noble’s retirement in 2022 and played a crucial role in The Hammers triumph in the Europa Conference, ending a 43-year wait for a major trophy. Despite his achievements, the Englishman has yet to reach the peak of his powers. His arrival at Arsenal is arguably the biggest statement of intent since the day Arsene Wenger announced Sol Campbell’s signing. With his quality, leadership and consistent availability, Rice promises to be a player who can elevate Arsenal to the next level.
Yet the idea of the club making such a move a year ago would have been deemed unrealistic, and two years ago, it would have seemed nearly impossible. However, under the guidance of Mikel Arteta, The Gunners have once again emerged as a genuine contender.
While the upcoming season holds various factors that could impact our performance, one thing is certain – the collective determination to achieve success, with Declan Rice at the heart of it all.
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