Arsenal have all it takes to break Manchester City’s stranglehold on the Premier League and Declan Rice can establish himself as a world class midfielder if deployed further up the pitch, according to Gunners legend Lauren.
Mikel Arteta’s men led the title race for the majority of last season, but eventually fell short of winning the Premier League for the first time since 2004 as City pipped them to the post.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Arsenal, who broke the record for spending the most number of days on top of the league in a top flight season in England without winning the title.
If last season was a statement of intent, the Gunners underlined their ambitions in the summer by investing a combined £200million on Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber.
Over half of that outlay went on Rice, who swapped the London Stadium for the Emirates for a club record £105m.
Declan Rice has hit the ground running since joining Arsenal for a club record £105m
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Having played alongside the likes of Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas, Lauren is well versed when it comes to world class midfielders and title-winning teams.
And so far he’s been impressed with the England international.
‘He’s a player that has already been playing at the highest level with England and with West Ham,’ Lauren, speaking on behalf of 888sport, tells Mail Sport.
‘He’s young, but he already has a lot of experience.
‘His performances since the beginning of the season are not a surprise, he’s a top class player. I’m not surprised to see him performing so well.’
Rice opened his account for Arsenal as his team scored twice deep into injury time to beat Manchester United 3-1 before the international break.
The goal was something of a rarity for the 24-year-old, who had found the net just 10 times in 204 Premier League appearances up until then.
Graeme Souness wrote in his Mail Sport column last month that Rice cannot be considered a world class player until he adds more goals to his game and creates more chances.
The England international opened his Arsenal account with a late goal against Man United
Lauren believes Rice could become world class if Mikel Arteta deploys him further forward
Lauren agrees, but with the caveat that a tactical tweak may be required if Rice’s offensive production is to increase.
‘He should be playing more of a box-to-box role to be closer to the strikers,’ he explains.
‘He’s got a good shot from outside the box, he’s got the quality to pick the final pass and he and attacks well the space in the final third.’
While Rice has hit the ground running, Havertz is yet to click into the gear following his move across London from Chelsea.
Arteta has kept faith with him in the first month of the season, but the former Chelsea man has shown little to justify his £65m price-tag.
Lauren, however, insists the German’s form isn’t reason for concern just yet.
Lauren (left) won five major trophies, including two Premier League titles with Arsenal
Arsenal have lacked a dominant central midfielder since the days of Patrick Vieira
‘Havertz will need some time but is a top quality player and I have no doubt he will perform well,’ he says.
‘He proved that at Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea, playing in the false nine role and Arsenal’s style of play suits players who can find space in between the lines.
‘He’s a top quality player, but he needs some time. I have no doubt he will deliver.’
Arsenal went into the first break of the season with 10 points after four games, the same tally of Tottenham, Liverpool and West Ham.
The fact only City have a perfect record underlines the challenge ahead, but Lauren likes what he’s seen from his former club so far.
‘They have showed everybody they’re capable to compete at the highest level,’ he says, noting Arsenal’s depth on the bench will be crucial this season, with the team competing on four fronts.
‘I believe Arsenal are in a position to challenge City and I believe this squad is ready to win the Premier League. It won’t be easy.’
Lauren has credited Arteta with turning Arsenal into title contenders once again
But he warned Manchester City remain the team to beat after winning the treble last season
Lauren believes Pep Guardiola is by far the best manager in the Premier League
As for whom deserves the credit for turning Arsenal into title challengers, the answer is obvious.
Since Arteta took over in December 2019, the Gunners have finished eighth twice, then fifth and second last season, picking up an FA Cup along the way.
It’s been slow, but steady progress.
‘Arteta has changed both the mentality and the ambition at Arsenal, not only within the squad but of Arsenal as an institution and has united the fans, the players and the club,’ Lauren says.
‘You can see it on the pitch in every single game. It’s been a long transformation, which began since he arrived but you can now see the results.’
The 46-year-old, however, concedes City remain the standard-setters in the Premier League largely because of Pep Guardiola.
‘They are absolutely the team to beat,’ he explains.
‘They have got incredible quality in the starting XI and on the bench.
‘You have a manager like Pep Guardiola, who has been winning titles in every league he’s coached in. With all the respect to Jurgen Klopp and Arteta, he’s a step ahead of everyone.’
Arsenal led City by eight points on April 1, before three consecutive draws – two of which came after squandering a two-goal lead – allowed Guardiola’s men back in the title race.
City seized the opportunity like all great teams do, dismantling Arsenal 4-1 at the Etihad in what was billed as a title decider and never looking back after that.
Arsenal led City by eight points on April 1 last season, but collapsed 4-1 at the Etihad three weeks later and lost the title by five points eventually
Lauren, who won five major trophies in six seasons at Arsenal, puts the collapse down to a lack of experience.
‘It’s not easy to win trophies,’ he says.
‘Last season, Arsenal only had Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko who were used to win trophies. You need more of this kind of players.
‘Lessons have been learnt from last season.’
Lauren was speaking on behalf of 888sport. Head to 888sport for the latest football odds.
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