On the verge of a nine-figure move from West Ham to Arsenal, can Declan Rice take Mikel Arteta’s side to the next level?
This article is an updated version of our recent piece ‘Would You Like Rice With That? Why Declan Rice Is a Wanted Man’, which you can read here.
It promised to be the saga of the summer. Arsenal made no secret of their desire to take Declan Rice across London as Mikel Arteta aims to bolster his ranks in preparation for another attempt at dethroning Manchester City in the Premier League.
Like the plot of a great novel or Football Manager save though, City entered the bidding themselves for a player they didn’t seem to have any need for, perhaps just to try and disrupt their rivals’ plans. A twist that few saw coming was Arsenal using financial muscle to win the battle; but win the battle they have and one of the most sought-after midfielders in world football is heading to the Emirates Stadium.
It is an eye-watering fee, reportedly £100 million guaranteed with a further £5m in add-ons making its way to West Ham’s pockets, and the biggest debate now seems to be: is Rice worth it?
Arteta clearly thinks so – adding Rice to the signing of Kai Havertz from Chelsea – but what exactly has he seen to convince him that Rice can be a transformative player for a team that did well to challenge City last season, but ultimately fell short? We have taken a look at the England international and what difference he could make in north London.
Firstly, he is a premier ball winner. Rice spent six years as a first-team player at West Ham. He made 26 Premier League appearances in his debut 2017-18 campaign, where he won possession on average 4.6 times per 90, primarily as a centre-back. That immediately rose to 8.6 times per 90 the following season as he moved into midfield, and in 2022-23 it went up to 9.2 times per 90. His total of 334 possession wins last season was comfortably the most in the league, with only Man City’s Rodri (301) also breaking the 300 mark.
Rice also ended the campaign with more interceptions than anyone else in the Premier League. His 63 was seven more than Idrissa Gueye, Cheick Doucouré and Moisés Caicedo (all 56), though Gueye and Doucouré did register higher per-90 rates (1.9 and 1.8 respectively).
He protects the defence admirably and was only dribbled past 20 times in the league in 2022-23 at an average of 0.6 times per 90. That was a better rate than the likes of Caicedo (0.8), Rodri, Bruno Guimarães (both 0.9), Thomas Partey (1.0), Gueye (1.1), Fabinho (1.3), João Palhinha (2.0) and Casemiro (2.1).
One area where Rice will have to adapt is how high up the pitch his teammates are. No team produced more high turnovers than Arsenal in the Premier League last season (388), with West Ham recording over 100 fewer (281, 12th in the league), which either means Rice will need to do his work in more advanced areas, or he’s at least unlikely to have his teammates ahead of him in as close proximity as he did with the Hammers, which could leave him more exposed at times.
How does he compare to what Arsenal already have, though? A big part of their form last season was built on the impressive partnership of Partey and Granit Xhaka, which will have to be broken up to find room for Rice but on the face of it, the Englishman should be an upgrade.
Of central midfielders who played a minimum of 500 minutes for Arsenal in the Premier League in 2022-23, none had a better passing accuracy than Rice’s 88.0%, none made as many as his 1.7 interceptions per 90 and none made as many as his long passes (6.1) or successful long passes per 90 (4.2). He was also generally available, with his 3,272 minutes played more than any Arsenal midfielder. In fact, he has started at least 32 league games in each of his last five seasons, suggesting he can be depended on to stay fit in the main.
According to our new radar comparisons, the player in Europe’s top five leagues Rice’s profile was closest to last season was in fact Partey, who has been linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer. The radar suggests that Partey’s output bared an 87.3% similarity to Rice’s. It could therefore be that Rice is intended to be the Ghanaian’s replacement, but they could also make quite a daunting pair if the former Atletico Madrid man ends up staying.Player radar ID:
One of Rice’s more memorable moments of last season was a marvellous solo goal in the 4-1 UEFA Europa Conference League quarter-final second leg victory against Gent, running from his own half before slotting in front of the wild home fans. A beaming Rice told BT Sport afterwards: “When I pick the ball up in those positions and I’ve got all that space to drive into, I feel good. When I’m running at defenders and I’ve got that space to drive with the ball, that’s when I feel like I’m at my best.”
His involvement in attacking sequences was second to none for his club as well, recording 138 overall in the Premier League last season, the most for any West Ham player. That included 32 shots, 30 chances created and 76 involvements in the build-up to a shot, showing that he can be an influential figure going forward as well as defensively.
Only Saïd Benrahma (47) and Jarrod Bowen (35) created more chances from open play for the Hammers in the league than Rice, while only those same two players as well as Vladimír Coufal and Aaron Cresswell created more than his three big chances.
Rice was West Ham’s primary passer of the ball, making almost twice as many as any of his teammates in the Premier League last season. In fact, his 2,083 passes were only behind Rodri, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Caicedo for midfielders in the whole league, which is impressive when you consider David Moyes’ side can hardly be described as a possession-based side. Only Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth averaged less possession than West Ham’s 41.4%.
Does that mean he was giving the ball away all the time? No. Rice completed 88.1% of his passes, eighth in the league for midfielders who attempted at least 1,000 passes. Does it mean he was playing easy passes? Not really. Of midfielders, only Bruno Fernandes (633) and Rodri (624) attempted more forward passes than Rice’s 607.
Does that mean Rice was being aided by space and movement around him? No. Only six players in the league completed more passes when an opponent was within two metres, and it’s not as if Rice was overrun with options to choose from either. West Ham recorded the lowest average passing options (1.08) of all Premier League teams in 2022-23.
He also loves to carry the ball. Among midfielders, only Rodri totalled more carries in the Premier League last season (702) than Rice’s 597, and only the Spain international recorded a greater total carry distance.
Rice actually has more in him when it comes to carries, which could potentially be unlocked in Arsenal’s more attack-minded setup. He recorded a gigantic 716 carries in the league in 2021-22 at 20.3 per 90, while he also had 105 in the successful Europa Conference League campaign last season.
He has also established himself internationally, playing his part for England as they reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar at the end of 2022, averaging more passes per 90 than any of his fellow Three Lions midfielders (68.5), which ranked him 19th across the whole tournament for midfielders who played at least three games.
The 24-year-old is primed to make the next step in his career, and with Arsenal showing such faith in him by shattering the club’s record fee for a player, the stage is set for him to do just that.
Appropriately ending his time at West Ham by leading them to a major trophy as they beat Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final, Rice now has the chance to challenge more regularly for silverware, to compete in the UEFA Champions League and to make a whole new set of fans fall in love with him.
He just has to hope that by the end of his first season, people are talking more about Rice than price.