Footballbible on Facebook and Twitter get up to date football-related news from the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and other leagues around the World. News from Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Arsenal should pursue West Ham holding midfielder Declan Rice because they have been “crying out” for a player of his calibre since Gilberto Silva left in 2008. That’s the verdict of club legend Paul Merson.
Mikel Arteta is eager to restructure his midfield this summer with Thomas Partey and Carlos Soler among his reported targets.
But Merson believes 21-year-old Rice, who boasts 90 Premier League appearances, is the defensive-minded option the Gunners are lacking in the middle.
Claret and Hugh claimed this week that the Hammers want £80million for the England international, which would break Arsenal’s transfer record for a second successive summer after the £72m purchase of Nicolas Pepe from Lille 12 months ago.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are also keeping tabs on the Kingston upon Thames-born destroyer, but Merson has urged his former club to pounce before the Blues.
And that’s because he thinks Rice is the top-tier holder who Arsenal have lacked since Invincibles hero Gilberto departed the Emirates 12 years ago.
He wrote in his Sky Sports column: “Chelsea have been linked with him, but I don’t know why Arsenal aren’t looking at Declan Rice. Arsenal are crying out for a holding midfield player.
“They don’t need a midfielder who’s going to be on the edge of the opposition box, they need a disciplined defensive midfielder, who is going to sit in front of the back four and organise the side; one who, when he gets the ball, gives it simple with 10-yard passes.
“When you look back at the likes of Roy Keane later in his career and Claude Makelele, they were the best because they never got involved. They just did the simple things.
“It’s so hard to be playing in a football match, playing five or 10-yard passes. Before you know it your mind is telling you to get involved and play 60-yard passes.
“You want to be involved and start spraying the ball about the pitch, but that’s where the great defensive midfielders just get it and keep it so simple.
“People often say Makelele never scored but that wasn’t his job. It wasn’t Keane’s job either.
“Their job was to protect the back four and – I’m not going to say give the ball to better players because I don’t agree with that, they were as talented players as the ones going forward – but their job was such an art.
“It’s such a hard job and that’s why I can’t believe Arsenal aren’t going in for a player like Rice.”
Merson thinks Rice could provide the defensive foundations for Arsenal’s talents in the final third to do their business without having to worry too much about their defensive duties.
He added: “A player like Rice can allow the attacking players to flourish and it gives the central defenders the chance to be better than what they are.
“I don’t care who you are in football, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and even a Virgil van Dijk, if you’ve got people running at you left, right and centre every minute, they are going to go past you on occasions.
“That’s where good protection in front of the back four comes into it and every team needs it. There are not too many world-class centre-backs in the world so that makes the defensive midfield position all the more important.
“For me, a good holding midfielder is priceless. Arsenal haven’t really had a disciplined defensive midfielder since Gilberto Silva. Everyone talks about the club never really replacing Patrick Vieira, and of course, but they never replaced Gilberto either.
“There are players in the current team that are meant to do that job but they don’t have the discipline to do it, and that needs addressing.”