How Declan Rice can fire Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge this season

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The £105million record signing was confirmed by Arsenal on Saturday as they finally landed the West Ham United captain.

The sight of Declan Rice taking his first steps as an Arsenal player will have cheered the Gunners faithful as the new Premier League season rapidly approaches.

After all of the speculation, negotiation and what felt like a never-ending wait for confirmation, the club’s record signing was finally confirmed on Saturday as the England midfielder brought an end to his love affair with West Ham United and joined their London rivals.

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Declan Rice is expected to sign for Arsenal. (Getty Images)Declan Rice is expected to sign for Arsenal. (Getty Images)
Declan Rice is expected to sign for Arsenal. (Getty Images) | Getty Images

His parting gift to the Hammers was their Europa Conference League final win over Fiorentina as he became the first West Ham captain to lift a major trophy in 43 years and he will head to the Emirates Stadium looking for further silverware.

After bringing a successful conclusion to a long-term admiration of the Hammers skipper, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta left supporters and his new addition in no doubt over just why he had pushed the Gunners hierarchy to make Rice their first £100million signing.

He told the Gunners website: “He is a player with tremendous ability, who has been performing at a high level in the Premier League and for England for a number of seasons now. Declan is bringing undoubted quality to the club and he is an exceptional talent who has the potential to be very successful here.

“Declan has great experience in the Premier League at only 24 years old. He has captained a very good West Ham team and as we all saw, he recently lifted a European trophy. The responsibility and role he has taken on has been very impressive and we are really excited that he is joining us.”

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Arsenal FC via Getty Images

The Gunners boss is right to be excited over Rice’s arrival as the club’s record signing seems to possess all of the attributes loved by his new manager. His ability to function effectively in a number of midfield roles will be key to forming part of a Gunners engine room that provided the power and control that fired them into contention for the Premier League title last season.

Comparing Rice’s statistics to those of the man he will effectively replace in Arteta’s side make for interesting reading. Granit Xhaka outscored his successor in the Gunners midfield in goal contributions with 14 compared to Rice’s five and had over double the England star’s expected goals and expected assists.

But in other areas it is Rice that comes out on top with a higher pass completion rate (86.5% to 84.7%) and can also boast over double Xhaka’s defensive action statistics. They include successful tackles, aerial challenges and blocks in each third of the pitch. The Swiss international only marginally outscores Rice in successful tackles in the final third but the difference between the two players stands at just 0.04 challenges per game.

Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Based on the performances of Rice’s new Gunners team-mates Martin Odegaard and Jorginho last season, Arteta clearly favours midfielders with an ability to carry his side up the field and help him seize control of the game. Once again, Rice outstrips his predecessor with a higher rate of ball carries, take-ons, interceptions and touches across central areas.

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There has been a tendency within the English game to pigeon-hole players within a certain role. Rice has been subjected to this trend, with many suggesting the former Hammer should be viewed as a holding midfielder, providing a protective barrier to the defence.

Although there is no doubt Rice can perform such a role and has done throughout his career, the presence of Jorginho and the words of his new manager, who has described his latest addition as ‘a lighthouse, willing to put light on others and improve others’ suggests that the England man may well have a more wide-ranging role than some would believe.

The main benefactor could well be the outstanding Odegaard, who produced some stunning statistics last season to firmly secure his position as one of the Premier League’s most influential talents. The Norway star provided 15 goals and seven assists in 37 Premier League appearances and created an average of 4.69 goalscoring opportunities for his team-mates throughout the season.

Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Rice’s ability to progress the ball with incisive runs and effective and accurate passing in the middle third will create more space for Odegaard to work his magic and continue providing for the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and new signing Kai Havertz.

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Building on last season and challenging for the Premier League title once again will be the main aim for Arteta and his players - and all of the statistics point towards the addition of Rice providing the Gunners with further ammunition for another progressive campaign.

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