Declan Rice signing has changed Arsenal’s mentality

Sport

Declan Rice has been everything Arsenal wanted him to be this season, and more. Signed for a club record transfer fee of £105m to be the Gunners’ new load-bearing pillar in the centre of the pitch, the England international has even offered something in an attacking sense, scoring his sixth league goal of the campaign in Saturday’s win over Brentford.

Rice’s biggest contribution, however, has come in terms of Arsenal’s mentality as a team. The 25-year-old’s personality has helped strengthen the Gunners’ mindset with Rice frequently the one driving them forward through his footballing ability and sheer strength of will. This is where Rice has made a real impact.

The impact made by Rice at Arsenal is similar to the one Virgil van Dijk had on Liverpool when he joined the Anfield club in January 2018. The Dutchman gave Jurgen Klopp the technically and physically imposing centre back he needed, but van Dijk’s arrival helped turn Liverpool into the ‘mentality monsters’ that won Premier League and Champions League titles.

It’s not yet known if Arsenal will follow the same trajectory on their way to winning silverware over the coming years, but the signing of Rice has pushed them closer to the Premier League title. At the same point last season, the Gunners were starting to lose momentum as Manchester City reeled them in. This season, there’s no sign of that happening.

This is what Rice wanted. The midfielder has always been open about his ambitions in the game and made clear towards the end of his time at West Ham that he hoped to challenge for honours at the elite level of the game. Arsenal have given Rice a platform to do this. Their union has been a strong one so far.

“When he talks, people listen and pay attention – and he has got the natural ability to do that,” said Arteta when asked about the leadership qualities of Rice within the Emirates Stadium dressing room. “He is a very mature and confident person, especially for his age. He has done a lot in the game as well. He has done it through an academy and an education that, in my opinion, is one of the best in the country.”

With Rice at the base of the midfield, Arsenal have played with freedom in the attacking third, certainly in recent weeks. The 25-year-old gives the Gunners structure and security and has forged a strong understanding with the players around him since arriving at the Emirates Stadium last summer.

Arsenal now face a defining stretch in their season. The Gunners will welcome Porto to North London for the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie with Arteta’s team trailing 1-0. Porto frustrated Arsenal in the first leg and could do the same on Tuesday night with the hosts under pressure to progress to the final eight.

Up next in the Premier League, Arsenal travel north to take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. This will be the ultimate test of the Gunners’ title credentials and could prove to be the defining moment in their season. If Arsenal are to win the Premier League, they will surely need another positive result against City having already beaten the defending champions earlier in the campaign.

After that, Arsenal have fixtures against Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. There are plenty more obstacles for the Gunners to navigate before they can even think about getting their hands on the trophy, but with Rice in the team they have a genuine chance of pulling it off.

Author: Mark Hayes