Arsenal can set Rice free to bring out the Vieira in him


Arsenal can set Rice free to bring out the Vieira in him

here has already been much discussion about what Declan Rice can do for Arsenal but perhaps more relevant is what playing for Arsenal can do for Rice.

The club's new £105million signing is already one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League and has said he thinks of himself as one of the top midfielders in Europe, but Rice has long believed he can still develop into a more dominant player with the ball.

After England's landmark 2-1 win over Italy in March — when Gareth Southgate's midfield overpowered an Italian engine room of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella in the first half, underlining their progress since the final of Euro 2020 — Rice spoke about his role with the national team.

"I never really play in that position at [my] club," he told Standard Sport after scoring in Naples. "At West Ham, it's a totally different format the way I play.

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"When I'm here [with England] there's more demand on me with the ball. It's definitely something I want to improve on. I want to put myself amongst the best and dictate the game on the ball more."

Rice felt restricted as a No6 in a defensive double pivot for David Moyes' West Ham side and was a little frustrated at the widespread perception of him as a magnificent player but primarily an all-action holding midfielder.

The 24-year-old knows he can be so much more and takes inspiration from Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure, both midfield colossi who dominated between the boxes and were regular scorers at the highest level.

There have been glimpses of the other side of Rice's game in claret and blue, notably his solo goal against Gent in their Europa Conference League quarter-final, when he won back possession, carried the ball from inside his own half, held off two defenders and finished calmly with his weaker left foot.

"If anybody did not think he could do that then they are completely naive," Hammers manager David Moyes said afterwards. "And they don't watch closely enough."

Rice has revelled in the opportunity to run games with the ball for Southgate's England, albeit often in qualifiers against low-level opposition, and the win over Italy was so thrilling for him because it came against a top side in a hostile atmosphere — offering further proof that he can dominate games and score crucial goals at the highest level.

At Arsenal, Rice should be afforded the same opportunities in domestic football on a nearly weekly basis, with Mikel Arteta's side likely to control the majority of matches, ensuring their new signing should have a freedom on the ball that was rarely possible at West Ham.

Last term, Arsenal enjoyed 59.7 per cent of possession in the top flight, compared to 41.4 for West Ham — the third lowest in the Premier League.

In pictures: Declan Rice joins Arsenal

With more time on the ball and better players around him, Rice is confident that the other aspects of his game will shine through and fans who think of him as a destroyer, able to deputise at centre-back, will get to know a dynamic box-to-box midfielder, capable of driving forward in possession, spraying passes, getting assists and scoring regularly.

"He has so many parts to his game," Moyes said last season. "He does not always show them. He has a good personality but he can show his personality even more. If he does that then you will see so many more aspects of his game. A lot of people think it isn't there but, let me tell you, it is there."

Rice is expected make-up a regular midfield three with Martin Odegaard and fellow new signing Kai Havertz, which will still leave him often operating as a No6, bearing the bulk of defensive responsibilities from midfield.

Arteta, though, also believes Rice is one of the few Premier League-proven players capable of both anchoring the team and driving forward, illustrating why Arsenal were prepared to smash their transfer record for the Hammers captain.

Their mammoth investment will be fully justified if Rice can develop into the dynamic and dominant midfield player at the both ends of the pitch that he believes he can.

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