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Declan Rice signing is Arsenal’s biggest statement of intent of Mikel Arteta era

Declan Rice only wanted to join one club. Even when Treble winners Manchester City joined the race to sign the England international, the reporting claimed Rice only had eyes for Arsenal. Now the most expensive player in Premier League history, the 24-year-old stands as the biggest statement of intent made under Mikel Arteta.

Rice was clearly ready for the next step in his career. Proven at Premier League and international level for England, most expect him to slot into Arsenal’s midfield without much fuss. He has been signed as a direct replacement for Granit Xhaka, who left to join Bayer Leverkusen. But that only says so much about how Rice will transform the Gunners.

According to Arteta, Rice will be a “lighthouse” for his team. “He is willing to put the light in others, improve others and make the team better, said the Arsenal boss. “We discussed a while ago how he could evolve the team and compliment the players and take that winning hunger into a team with players who really want to push themselves to a different level.

“He has an aura. The experience he has in this league is going to bring the team to a different dimension. He has the physical qualities we were missing for a while. The way he talks and presents himself. The ambition he has and his passion for the game is exactly what we needed.”

Last season was a broadly successful one for Arsenal. They might have fallen short in the Premier League title race, but the fact they were involved at all exceeded expectations. The Gunners will be back in the Champions League next season and their transfer activity this summer suggests they want to use that as a platform to continue building.

Rice isn’t the only notable addition made to the Arsenal squad this summer. Kai Havertz was signed from Chelsea for €70m with the German expected to be utilised in a number of different positions for the Gunners. Havertz’s talent has never been in doubt, but now he might have a manager who can make the most of it.

Jurrien Timber has also joined the Emirates Stadium club, making the £35m switch from Ajax. The Netherlands international was targeted in part due to his versatility with Timber comfortable at right back as well as centre back. Arteta wanted more depth in the defensive areas and the signing of Timber will give him that.

However, the knock-on effect of having Rice in central midfield could be most significant of all. The 24-year-old will give Arsenal balance in the centre of the pitch and give Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and others the freedom they require to impose themselves on opponents in the final third.

While there are some limitations in Rice’s game – the midfielder isn’t always the quickest at moving the ball – he has joined Arsenal at a time when he will surely absorb lessons from the coaching staff and the world class players around him. Arteta has improved several players as Arsenal boss and he could improve Rice too.

Arteta believes Arsenal’s young team can grow together and win. This principle has guided the club’s transfer strategy in recent years and this summer’s addition of Rice, as well as Havertz and Timber, is an extension of this. The Gunners were the youngest team in the Premier League last season and Arteta wants his team to stay young.

Even with Rice in central midfield, catching Manchester City next season will be a difficult task for Arsenal. Pep Guardiola’s team have set a new precedent at the top of the English and European game and continue to go from strength to strength. There’s no reason to believe City will suffer a dramatic drop-off any time soon.

Arsenal could still do with adding another central midfielder to their squad before the summer transfer window closes. Thomas Partey’s future is up in the air with several Saudi Arabian clubs reportedly interested in the Ghanian and so Arteta could make the decision to find a younger replacement for the 30-year-old.

A new left back could also be sought if Kieran Tierney leaves the Emirates Stadium this summer, but otherwise Arsenal’s squad is in good shape ahead of the 2023/24 season. Rice is the new signing who best reflects the ambition at the club. £105m is a lot of money, but Rice’s signing signifies a lot for the Gunners and their ambition.

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