Declan Rice is vital but Arsenal need more to close the gap on City

By on June 13, 2023


The summer transfer window is about to open and Arsenal are already being linked with a whole host of names. After such an impressive season in 2022/23, it’s important the club pushes on and builds upon this hugely talented young squad to give Mikel Arteta the depth he needs to really challenge on all fronts next season.

A year ago, nobody thought Arsenal would mount a serious title challenge. We were expected to be facing a fierce battle just to finish in the top four having finished fifth the previous campaign. However, Arsenal surprised everybody to be Manchester City’s main challengers last year. We sat atop the table for over 200 days and at one stage, we were favourites to win the title back in March. In the end, we collapsed during the final few games and Man City won the Premier League en route to sealing an historic treble. We came up short but it’s no disgrace to lose-out to one of the best teams in history.

A mixture of injuries to key players, crucial misses, poor displays and the formidable form of City led to our downfall. Ultimately, many feel it was Arsenal’s lack of squad depth that cost us the title, as we simply couldn’t cope when William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu got injured, and didn’t have the quality available to rotate throughout the season in order to keep the likes of Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey, etc, fresh during the run-in. Arteta tried to use his best eleven too often as he didn’t trust his back-ups, and it led to injuries and player burn-out at the business end of the campaign.

Rice to Arsenal?

If Arsenal are to go one better and beat City to the title next season, it’s crucial we strengthen the squad this summer. One player who is widely expected to join is Declan Rice. The England international is Arteta’s No.1 transfer target this summer and Arsenal are in talks with West Ham trying to thrash out a deal. One thing that’s for certain is those with West Ham tickets and who watch Rice every week will be gutted to lose him. The 24-year-old is their captain and has been a key player for West Ham in recent years. He led them to the Europa Conference League title last week and is the heartbeat of David Moyes’ side in the middle of the park.

Rice is an all-action midfielder who will be a superb addition to the Arsenal team if this proposed move goes through. The reported fee will be around £90m-£100m, so it will be a club-record deal, but we need to pay this sort of money to bring in world class players who’ll take us to the next level. Rice can play as a holding midfielder, as a two-man pivot in front of the defence or as a No.8 who gets forward, so his versatility will be a huge asset for Arteta. You could see him becoming a future captain of the club.

However, we need more than just Declan Rice to close the gap on City. The England ace is likely to come in as a direct replacement for Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international is set to return to Germany with Bayer Leverkusen, so it will be one-in, one-out at Arsenal. Rice would be an upgrade on Xhaka and would improve the first team, but we still need to strengthen the overall squad so more bodies are needed this summer.

More needed

I personally think we need a second central midfielder to come in this summer. If Arteta sees Rice mainly playing in a deeper role, then we need to sign a more creative player as well. There has been talk of interest in James Maddison and he’d be an excellent addition to the squad. However, Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic could also be a terrific option as he’s expected to leave this summer.

Last season also exposed our weakness in defence as we were poor without Saliba. Rob Holding is a great bloke and he’s well liked within the squad, but he’s just not up to the required quality needed to win titles. A replacement for Holding is needed. Reports suggest that Arsenal may actually sign a new right-back as that would allow Ben White to move back into his usual central position. White did well filling in at right-back last season with Tomiyasu struggling with form and fitness, but he was bought as a centre-back so it may make sense to sign a specialist full-back.

That would leave Arteta with Saliba, Gabriel, Kiwior and White as his centre-backs, while Tomiyasu can also play in the middle if needed, which should be strong enough next season. Kieran Tierney is expected to be sold, possibly to Newcastle United, so Arsenal may need a new left-back as well. That’s why reported interest in Joao Cancelo makes so much sense. The Portuguese is comfortable playing at right-back or left-back, so he’d be a really useful addition to the squad. He’s a top class player who would be a superb signing if we could get him back to his best form. He fell out with Pep Guardiola last season and was sent on loan to Bayern Munich in January. Cancelo doesn’t appear to have a future at City, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll sell to Arsenal again.

Another key position I think we need to strengthen is in attack. Arteta wants to bring in a winger to support Bukayo Saka, and that is a must. Saka was run into the ground last season and he needs more rest to keep him in optimal shape. Moussa Diaby would be a great signing but he could be expensive with several other clubs chasing him but it’s vital Arteta signs a top class winger this summer.

However, I think we also need to bring in another striker. Gabriel Jesus has been a great signing and his style of play suits Arteta’s system. But we lack a ‘Plan B’ type striker to bring on or start in certain games. The Newcastle game at the Emirates stands out in my mind, as we really struggled to break them down. We just kept throwing in cross after cross with nobody big enough to get on the end of them. If we had a Giroud type hitman that could have made all the difference. Dusan Vlahovic is back on Arsenal’s radar as he wants out of Juventus, and he’d be a terrific signing if we could pull it off.

The likes of Cedric Soares, Tierney, Xhaka, Nicolas Pepe, Holding, Jorginho and Folarin Balogun are expected to be sold to raise money to fund our transfer business. It’s certainly going to be an interesting, and very busy, summer at Arsenal. Let’s hope Arteta and Edu can pull it off to turn Arsenal into challengers on all fronts next year.