The importance of Declan Rice to Arsenal is clear. Although the cost was high, with West Ham receiving £105m for a player they acquired for free, Rice proves to be worth the investment. As Arsenal struggled under the weight of competing with Manchester City for the title last season, they were in need of a tenacious midfielder like Rice. In their recent match against Sevilla, when they were barely holding onto a lead, Rice’s ability to anticipate and eliminate threats was greatly appreciated.
The previous weakness that hindered Mikel Arteta’s team in the past is now absent. Arsenal has become stronger since acquiring Rice. He played a vital role in their recent victory against City, making a crucial clearance on the goal line and consistently stopping potential attacks. He has also brought more organization and leadership to the team. Arteta, who compares Rice to a lighthouse for his ability to make his teammates shine, had a clear intention when he started pursuing the English player last year.
Reworded: During his last season at West Ham, Rice maintained his focus and helped the team avoid relegation. He ultimately captained the club to their first major trophy in 43 years under the guidance of David Moyes. The Europa Conference League final victory against Fiorentina served as the ideal farewell for Rice, solidifying his status as a club legend. It was a rare accomplishment, as no player had captained West Ham to European glory since Bobby Moore. As a result, when Arsenal faces West Ham in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, Rice is sure to receive a warm reception at the London Stadium.
If he is indeed involved, even if only as a substitute, there should be no resentment towards Rice when he plays against his previous team for the first time. The reality is that, at 24 years old, he had to depart for the betterment of his professional path. Rice joined West Ham at the age of 14 and remains fond of the club, but it was necessary to seek new opportunities. It is understandable that he wants to challenge for prestigious titles and participate in the Champions League every year.
The chances of this happening at West Ham were slim. Even with a budget of £105m for improving the team, they are still in the middle of the table. Despite a promising start, their performance has declined and criticisms of Moyes’s conservative strategies have resurfaced. They did not perform well against Everton last Sunday and have lost three games in a row. Moyes could use a strong showing against Arsenal to turn things around.
Regardless of the outcome of the match against Arsenal, those in charge of determining whether to renew Moyes’s contract at the end of the season are undoubtedly concerned about West Ham’s recent performances, which have only highlighted the reasons why Rice chose to leave. Once again, the spotlight is on the team’s failure to cultivate an aggressive playing style. This was evident in their match against Everton, as Sean Dyche’s team was well aware that West Ham would struggle to generate chances if they were given more possession and denied space for counterattacks.
The match implied that West Ham’s adversaries have figured out their strategy. The practical, defensive style that led to victories against Brighton and Chelsea in August does not seem sustainable for future success. Their only league wins since then have been against Luton and Sheffield United – not exactly challenging opponents. Despite currently ranking ninth, West Ham fans are envious of teams with similar resources who are playing more entertaining football.
Moyes has at his disposal the inventive skills of Lucas Paquetá. With Jarrod Bowen on the right and the addition of Ghanaian striker Mohammed Kudus in the recent transfer window, it is reasonable to believe that a manager with new perspectives could bring out the best in these players. We need only look at the success of Aston Villa under Unai Emery as an example.
Although the main concern is West Ham’s predictable performance when in possession, there are also underlying problems in their midfield structure. The loss of Rice’s strength and stamina has not been adequately filled. Even with the addition of midfielders Edson Álvarez and James Ward-Prowse, West Ham is still vulnerable to being played through. Without Rice’s shielding, the back four is more exposed.
As a result, Moyes has shifted Paquetá to the left side, a departure from the preferred central position of the Brazilian. He typically deploys a strong midfield trio of Tomas Soucek, Ward-Prowse, and Álvarez, which can be effective against tougher opponents but also limits West Ham’s width. If they choose to surrender possession, Paquetá lacks the pace to ease pressure by dribbling up the wing during counterattacks.
This can also result in a lack of energy and excitement. However, with Saïd Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, and Maxwel Cornet falling out of favor, Moyes has limited choices. In the match against Everton, he attempted to play more aggressively by benching Soucek and starting Kudus in the No. 10 position, but it was not successful. Kudus failed to apply enough pressure and Everton easily overpowered the concerning slow partnership of Álvarez and Ward-Prowse. Álvarez, who has received five bookings and will be suspended for the game against Brentford on Saturday, is still adapting to the fast pace of the Premier League.
There are no concerns for Arsenal in their midfield department. In the past, there was speculation that West Ham did not need Rice and were actually better without him. This was unfounded and seems even more ridiculous now. As Arsenal enjoys the advantages of having Rice on their team, West Ham is starting to feel his absence more significantly.