Thursday, February 29, 2024

Declan Rice: A statement signing

So, he’s here at last.

Declan Rice is officially an Arsenal player after his record move from West Ham was confirmed yesterday. Clearly it’s no surprise to anyone, and I’ve been pretty relaxed about it over the last couple of weeks. Still, it’s nice to get it done, and I do think the fact it’s been waiting in the wings for so long has perhaps lessened the impact of it when it did.

Which isn’t a criticism of anyone or anything, a deal worth £105m – and buying from a club who were determined to do it on their own terms to the greatest extent possible – is a complicated process. It’s just that people have got used to it, in a way, but I think we need to step back and look at this properly because it is a huge moment for this football club. It’s a real statement signing.

Statement: It says that this Arsenal is an attractive destination for the top players. Even a year ago, the idea that we’d be in for an England international of his stature, with all the choices he would have had when he decided to leave West Ham would have been verging on fanciful.

Statement: It says that what Mikel Arteta is building – both in terms of this team and his own reputation as a manager – is something big players want to be involved with.

Statement: It’s a record transfer fee for us, and for an English player. More on that anon, but it says that the manager is being fully backed by the ownership. We’ve all had our criticisms of KSE, but so far this summer we’ve splashed out another £200m without bringing in a single penny, and that has to be acknowledged. Arteta pitched Rice as the cornerstone of this transfer window, and the club have gone to extraordinary financial lengths to make that happen.

Update: I forgot we actually sold Xhaka, and Pablo Mari, so we did get some money in!

Statement: It changes the perception of Arsenal when a player like Declan Rice decides to come, and the kind of business we can do. With all due respect to recent signings, it’s much easier to sign Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United and Ben White from Brighton, for example, than it is to sign a 24 year England international who had the likes of Man City and Bayern Munich courting him too.

Statement: It says that we are not content to rest on our laurels after a good season, and Arteta’s pursuit of improvement and development continues apace. It remains to be seen exactly how we’re going to line-up next season, but it looks very much like we’ve bought players to upgrade a midfield that was – for most of last season – extremely impressive. It demonstrates a seriousness about raising the level, and it’s a message that will not be lost on a single player in that squad.

I don’t think you can overestimate just how big this is, and how important Declan Rice is to what Mikel Arteta wants to do. Much like the Gabriel Jesus deal last summer, the groundwork on this one has been going on for a long time. Arteta pitched this move to the player to such an extent that despite other interest, there was only one place he wanted to be. If you’re determined to develop individually and be a key part of a team that wants to win things, that kind of clear vision must be compelling to a player.

Again, he ticks all the Arteta boxes. He’s got huge experience at only 24, his best years are ahead of him, and it’s yet another arrival from a Premier League club. We can talk about his abilities as a player, but when someone like Granit Xhaka leaves, you need to replace some of that dressing room personality. Other players will step up, but Rice was captain of West Ham, and his leadership qualities will have been a big factor in this move too.

Let’s just talk briefly about the fee. It’s £100m + £5m in add-ons. By any standards, it’s a massive amount of money. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever see Arsenal pay that kind of transfer fee, and like many of you, I’m sure, it feels like an almost uncomfortable number when you try and look at it out of the context of football.

However, it is a football number, and when you compare it to some other deals and the stature of the player, it makes a bit more sense. In January 2018, Liverpool paid Southampton £75m for 26 year old Dutch international Virgil van Dijk. Five years down the line, Arsenal paying £100m for a 24 year old England international doesn’t seem completely outlandish in comparison. I know every transfer is individual, and you can’t always draw parallels, but in this case Rice feels like the kind of arrival van Dijk was for Liverpool. Not quite the final piece of the jigsaw, but someone who raises the level in a significant way.

That’s what he can do when he gets on the pitch. I’m sure everyone knows plenty about him already, but as we do with every new signing, we get granular in podcast format over on Patreon, and on site Phil’s profile piece is here. I don’t need to get into the nuts and bolts of that this morning, but adding another 6’+ player to a group which is already big in size is quite deliberate too. Technicality and physicality is clearly part of Arteta’s strategy.

If you haven’t watched Rice’s interview with the official site, it’s worth a look. He comes across very well, and you can see how much he wants to be part of what’s going on at Arsenal right now. He says:

You only ever get one career and I really believe in what Mikel is building here and the squad he’s building. I just want to say it’s an absolute privilege to be a part of Arsenal Football Club. The history and the players that have played here speak for themselves. And now I have joined, we’ve got some other signings as well, we are looking to get Arsenal back to the big time, back to winning stuff.

This really does feel like the right player joining the right club at exactly the right time. It’s one to be really excited about, and let’s hope he can fulfil those ambitions in the years ahead.

Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. Enjoy your Sunday folks.

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