Last summer, Declan Rice’s next club was the hot topic in the red half of north London. Now all the talk is about his late goals and whether he can propel league leaders Arsenal past Aston Villa in tonight’s mouthwatering clash.
There was never any doubt in manager Mikel Arteta’s mind where Rice would end up, despite the speculation in July.
‘When I spoke to him, he mentioned to me many times from day one, “I just want to play for Arsenal and I want to play with you”, and he maintained his word to the last moment and we were good enough to acquire him,’ Arteta revealed on Friday.
And now the Gunners are being swept along on a tide of Rice fever, with ‘Rice Rice Baby’ being belted out in the away changing room at Luton Town on Tuesday night after the midfielder’s 97th-minute winner. ‘Dec the Halls’ Christmas jumpers, adorned with the 24-year-old wearing a Santa hat, are flying off the shelves.
Whether Arteta has bought one is unclear but the Spaniard is clearly impressed with his £105million midfielder.
‘He’s extremely intelligent to read situations,’ said Arteta, ‘to break up play, to win crucial duels in certain areas of the pitch that allow us to counter and progress in really dangerous situations.
‘He gives us a presence and attitude that is very difficult to find in a holding midfielder, and he has become a key player. We have various opportunities in different games to use him in different ways in relation to what we expect from the game.’
Then there are the leadership qualities that Rice brings. The club’s executives are understood to have been impressed with the way he holds himself on and off the pitch, and he is well-liked by the staff.
‘He’s really humble,’ Arteta added, ‘funny, really hardworking. He is extremelyRead on m.allfootballapp.com