As Rice, Rice, Baby reverberated from the Emirates speakers on Sunday afternoon, Declan Rice had raised his head towards the deafening cries of Arsenal supporters.
The season is just over three weeks old, yet the Gunners faithful are already aware that if a title bid is to follow, Rice will truly be crucial.
Rice, 24, was signed to shield the defence, quickly disperse play to start attacks and make an occasional foray forward.
Mikel Arteta, publicly and privately, is not overly concerned about how many goals or assists Rice will gain this season. That is not his main remit. Though he is already contributing to that other side of his game critics so often point to when scrutinising him.
Graeme Souness wrote in his Mail Sport column last month: ‘Is Declan Rice a great player? Not yet, but he could be, if he can improve on these two very important aspects of being a world-class midfielder.
Declan Rice has shown his importance to Arsenal after just four games of the Premier League season
The midfielder scored Arsenal’s second goal as they beat Manchester United 3-1 on Sunday
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‘Firstly, he needs to score more goals. Secondly, he has to make that cute, clever pass forward to create chances, instead of being content to go square and safe. I’m not sure they are qualities that can be coached.’
But the numbers at Arsenal so far depict a player desperate to change that. For example, his four shots on target so far this season are almost half as many as he managed in 37 league games for West Ham last year (nine).
There has also been a rise in his attempted shots per game compared to last season (1.3 vs 1), as well as the number of passes into the final third (10.3 vs 8.7) and tackles (2.5 vs 2.2).
He has made a concerted effort to get into the box and provide a goal threat. Against United, he made darting runs forward while Oleksandr Zinchenko moved from left back to cover space he had left vacant in the middle.
He already looks like the game-changer Arteta was convinced he would be when pursuing the midfielder. That chase goes back to January, when Arteta put him top of that winter’s shopping list.
West Ham refused to do business, so the Arsenal boss earmarked him for the summer — a transfer to be landed at any cost. £105million was the eventual figure.
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta (left) chased Rice for months and his patience is reaping rewards
Of course, money is not always the answer. Just ask Todd Boehly, who has splurged more than £1bn on a Chelsea squad in flux.
Rice’s 96th-minute strike, after he had found space at the back post from Bukayo Saka’s corner, won the match for Arteta on Sunday. It is such game-defining moments that Rice brings to the table, as well as composure in matches laced with tension.
In truth, issues with the defence remain, and must be fixed by Arteta. Yet the solidity in leadership Rice provides in the middle is already paying dividends.
As a 15-year-old academy prospect, he was recorded describing himself as a leader. Moments after coming on as a substitute during the pre-season of the US, his first appearance in an Arsenal jersey, he was already marshalling the other midfielders into position. This was only days after completing his move to north London.
There is also a unique connection with Eddie Nketiah, the pair having grown up together in the Chelsea academy — then released on the same day aged 14.
In the Los Angeles leg of their US tour, Rice revealed: ‘It was the worst (being released). It can be a cruel world in the way lads get released by clubs. Luckily enough, I managed to make my dream come true. I’m at the top end in the Premier League but it’s come with a lot of hard work.’
Rice has a strong friendship with club and country team-mates Bukayo Saka (left) and Aaron Ramsdale
It is these experiences that have shaped the player he is today. He is said to have settled in well with his team-mates, and is particularly close with Saka and Aaron Ramsdale.
In fact, the pair were approached by Arteta for a debrief on Rice’s character and leadership qualities ahead of seeking his signing.
Aside from goals, assists and tackles, it’s silverware Rice has left West Ham in search of. As he said in Los Angeles: ‘Don’t judge me over a year, judge me over six years. Hopefully, I can repay it back with a few trophies.’
He has certainly started on the right foot.
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