Paul Merson cannot understand why Arsenal are reportedly not looking to sign Declan Rice as they’ve been lacking a disciplined sitting midfielder since Gilberto Silva.
The 21-year-old West Ham defensive midfielder has been heavily linked with a switch to either Chelsea and Manchester United.
Declan Rice’s season by numbers (club rank): Five key things to know…
- Club: West Ham
- Appearances: 29 (1st)
- Goals/Assists: 0/2
- Tackles won: 46 (1st)
- Interceptions: 61 (1st)
Since breaking through from the Hammers’ academy, he’s become a mainstay in their first team, often playing alongside club captain Mark Noble.
His performances earned him an international call-up, with Rice switching his allegiance from Republic of Ireland to England. Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate has picked him on seven occasions to date.
As a consequence, the Londoner has seen his name being associated with a move away from the East End of the nation’s capital — Rice’s present contract expires in June 2024 but many are envisaging him not fulfilling that deal.
Crossing London, which Blues boss Frank Lampard — a graduate of West Ham’s youth set-up — did all those years ago, seems a possibility, but former Arsenal forward Merson sees him fitting perfectly at the north London club and doesn’t know why they aren’t in for Rice given he’ll improve Mikel Arteta’s team.
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“Chelsea have been linked with him, but I don’t know why Arsenal aren’t looking at Declan Rice,” he told Sky Sports.
“Arsenal are crying out for a holding midfield player. They don’t need a midfielder who’s going to be on the edge of the opposition box, they need a disciplined defensive midfielder, who is going to sit in front of the back four and organise the side; one who, when he gets the ball, gives it simple with 10-yard passes.
“When you look back at the likes of Roy Keane later in his career and Claude Makelele, they were the best because they never got involved. They just did the simple things.”
“It’s such a hard job and that’s why I can’t believe Arsenal aren’t going in for a player like Rice,” he added.
“A player like Rice can allow the attacking players to flourish and it gives the central defenders the chance to be better than what they are. I don’t care who you are in football, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and even a Virgil van Dijk, if you’ve got people running at you left, right and centre every minute, they are going to go past you on occasions.
“That’s where good protection in front of the back four comes into it and every team needs it. There are not too many world-class centre-backs in the world so that makes the defensive midfield position all the more important.
“For me, a good holding midfielder is priceless. Arsenal haven’t really had a disciplined defensive midfielder since Gilberto Silva. Everyone talks about the club never really replacing Patrick Vieira, and of course, but they never replaced Gilberto either.
“There are players in the current team that are meant to do that job but they don’t have the discipline to do it, and that needs addressing.”