‘Declan who? We’re better off without our former captain in our side’

We look at Rice’s time at Arsenal so far ahead of our ex-skipper returning again to London Stadium

Declan Rice (WHU) at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

Lots has been written about Declan Rice since he left us, and before, for that matter. We all knew he was going, and for some time we knew it would be Arsenal he was going to.

Many of us hoped his next destination would be Manchester City, but unfortunately, Manchester is outside of London’s Zone Six, so Rice wasn’t having it. To be fair to Sullivan, he got pretty much the best deal he could for Rice, and to be fair to Sullivan, Steidten or Moyes, that £105 million has been well invested on Ward-Prowse, Alvarez and Kudus.

As we head into February, we currently sit sixth on 35 points and are still in Europe, the team has hardly ‘collapsed’ following the departure of their best player, as many had predicted. In fact, when all our players are fit, we have a better team than we had with Rice in it.

So, we have moved on, but how has our ex-skipper fared as part of Arteta’s project? When we take on Arsenal on February 11th it will be the first league return Declan Rice has made to his old stomping ground.

Rice left West Ham for a ‘bigger club’ to ‘win things’, and although Arsenal are still in the mix for the League, and are still in the Champions League, it looks unlikely he will be winning much this season. At the time of writing, Arsenal sit third in the league, on 43 points, the same points as second-placed Manchester City and five points behind league leaders Liverpool.

Arsenal was dispatched from the League Cup by little old West Ham in the fourth round, and from the FA Cup by Liverpool in the third round. They have a Champions League last 16 tie against Porto, towards the end of February.

I won’t be putting my house on Arsenal to win the Premier League nor the Champions League, they have more than a hint of being bottle jobs, like that other North London rabble do. Arsenal fans seem pleased with Rice, and he does seem to have made the move ‘up the table’, effortlessly.

For those of us who have seen him develop, this is not surprising, Rice has looked like a Rolls Royce of a player for years. When he was still at West Ham, I had Arsenal fans tell me he was ‘bang average’ and worth ‘£50 million, tops’.

Obviously, now he’s playing in the red and white, he is ‘a bargain’ and ‘priceless’. All fans can be fickle, so we’ll smirk and move on, and forgive Arsenal fans for now seeing what we have done for years. Back in November, Arsenal were coming off the back of defeats against us, and Newcastle, and were facing a tricky game against Sevilla.

Rice absolutely bossed the Sevilla midfield, and made it three out of four European wins at this point, putting them on the brink of the Champions League last 16. This is what Arsenal paid for, someone who could dominate the middle of the park in key games against elite opposition. Against Sevilla, Rice did just that.

Watching the game, he seemed to be everywhere, full of energy and purpose, nicking the ball off the toes of opposition players. He was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch for that game. Looking through Arsenals’ games, and the player ratings, Rice often gets an 8/10, and has clearly taken the form we saw at West Ham and taken it up a level.

He has solidified an Arsenal team, and is a big part of them having the best defensive record in the Premier League. Has he improved? Rice himself feels he has. This could be due better coaching, being surrounded by better players, or a mixture of the two.

Rice has spoken highly of Arteta and the Arsenal coaching team. It will be interesting to see how Rice progresses from here. He is a mainstay in the England team but was when he was still with us. The bigger question is what can he win at Arsenal? Personally, I‘m not sure.

Arsenal are not by any means the finished project, they have some fantastic players, like Saka and Odegaard, but also have White and Nketiah. They lack a striker to regularly hit the back of the neck, and what is the signing of Havertz all about?

To be fair to Arteta, he keeps talking about his ‘project’, and Arsenal not being the finished article yet. When and if that happens, remains to be seen, and I think Rice might be waiting some time for his next piece of silverware.

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