Talking Tactics

Tackling, speed, stamina: Why Rice can transform Arsenal's midfield

15 Jul 2023
Declan Rice

Adrian Clarke explains how the 24-year-old has all the attributes to take the Gunners to the next level

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Player analysis: Declan Rice (ARS)

It is easy to see why Mikel Arteta was so determined to add Rice to his squad this summer.

Rice is a highly accomplished all-round central midfielder with outstanding leadership qualities and his best years ahead of him.

See: How Rice overcame adversity to reach the top

Out of possession, the 24-year-old will increase Arsenal’s power and ball-winning potential.

And when the Gunners build attacks, his drive and technical quality will also suit their style of play.

No player won possession back for his side more often than Rice during the 2022/23 Premier League season.

Mobile, aggressive and spatially aware, Rice is now a proven ball-winner who is sure to spring a host of extra turnovers for his new club.

Arsenal will press more than West Ham United did, so we may see Rice step forward into higher positions in order to regain possession.

When he does this, Rice’s expertise at stepping in to make interceptions is going to add a new layer to the Gunners’ defensive work.

He has made at least 63 interceptions in three of the last four seasons.

Most possession won and interceptions 22/23
Possession won Interceptions
Declan Rice 334 Declan Rice 63
Rodri 301 Cheick Doucoure 56
Idrissa Gueye 266 Moises Caicedo 56
Kieran Trippier 264 Idrissa Gueye 56

During that period, the most interceptions from an Arsenal midfielder was the 35 made by Dani Ceballos during 2020/21, and last season, Thomas Partey led the way, with 28.

Most interceptions Rice v Arsenal midfield
Season Rice Arsenal's leading midfielder Total
2019/20 77 Lucas Torreira 34
2020/21 59 Dani Ceballos 35
2021/22 63 Thomas Partey 23
2022/23 63 Thomas Partey 28
Where will he play?

It is widely expected that Rice will predominantly feature as Arsenal’s defensive midfielder in their 4-3-3 set-up.

This is likely to be the case, but do not be surprised if he is also used as a left-sided box-to-box player.

In their toughest fixtures, this will be more of a consideration.

On occasion, Arsenal may play Partey or Jorginho in the holding role, with Rice and Martin Odegaard either side.

That dynamic would strengthen Arsenal’s stability out of possession, with Rice able to drop back when necessary to form an orthodox double-pivot in front of the defence.

Surging forward

Arteta has built a side packed with players who are able to move the ball forward with quality.

He demands that his team progress the ball efficiently through the thirds, breaking the lines at every available opportunity.

Rice has become increasingly confident at surging down the middle.

Last season he travelled 4.89km in a progressive direction with the ball.

Manchester City’s Rodri was the only midfielder to take the ball a further distance towards the opposition goal.

Most progressive distance carried 22/23
Player Progressive carrying distance (metres)
Rodri 5,622
Declan Rice 4,894
Bukayo Saka 4,557

Rice is also a wonderful passer with an ability to make telling progressive deliveries to team-mates ahead of him.

His place among the division’s very best in these two departments will have been a factor behind Arteta’s decision to pursue him.

Most progressive passes 22/23
Player Progressive passes
Martin Odegaard 266
Bruno Fernandes 263
Rodri 260
Pascal Gross 255
Kevin De Bruyne 246
Declan Rice 240

Three of Arsenal's central midfield options in 2022/23, Granit Xhaka, Partey and Jorginho, were aged 29 or above.

So Rice’s inclusion in the team will immediately lower the average age of an already youthful side.

He is deceptively quick, registering a top speed of 33.72km/h. And perhaps crucially, Rice also covers a lot more ground in comparison to Arsenal’s midfielders from last season.

Distance covered Rice v Arsenal midfield
2022/23 Minutes played Distance covered (km) Distance covered/90 (km) Top speed (km/h)
Declan Rice 3,272 412.9 11.36 33.72
Granit Xhaka 3,004 368.3 11.04 32.37
Thomas Partey 2,485 289.3 10.48 34.48
Jorginho 1,281 158.9 11.16 30.05

In an attack-minded team who like to commit a lot of bodies forward, it is important to have a player with great athleticism to provide cover.

When the pace of a match is high-tempo, Rice’s energy will improve Arsenal’s resistance to opposition counters.

Arteta's huge faith in Rice looks justified.

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See: Analysis of 2023 summer signings

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