Making a Case for Arsenal's Declan Rice as Premier League Player of the Season

Arsenal proved to be a much more formidable contender for the Premier League title this season as they managed to push Pep Guardiola's Manchester City until the final matchday of the campaign. 

The Gunners were in pole position to win the league in the 2022/2023 campaign but folded under pressure as a relentless City side tutored by Pep Guardiola chased them and eventually overtook them.

The Gunners were much better this season as Mikel Arteta's team became a much more dominant side, ruthless in attack and rock-solid in defense. However, Manchester City proved to be just too much once again as they narrowly edged the Gunners to the Premier League crown this season.

Throughout the season, several players stood out with wonderful performances for their respective teams. The likes of City's lords Erling Braut Haaland, Kevin DeBryune, and Phil Foden were phenomenal; Virgil van Dijk and Mohammed both had impressive campaigns; Ollie Watkins had his best-ever campaign with Aston Villa; Alexander Isak was clinical for Newcastle United; Cole Palmer was ice cold in front of goal; and Martin Odegaard was superb in midfield for Arsenal. However, one player who distinguished himself from the lot was Declan Rice.

The 25-year-old moved to the Emirates from West Ham last summer for a club-record €116.6 million, and he took to Arsenal like fish to water. Rice was nothing short of exceptional for the Gunners season, showcasing a blend of leadership, defensive prowess, and versatility, which significantly improved Arsenal's campaign. 

For the rest of this article, we will assess why Rice deserved to be named the Premier League Player of the Season instead of Manchester City star Foden.

Rice Has Shown Great Leadership Qualities 

Making a Case for Arsenal's Declan Rice as Premier League Player of the Season
Declan Rice (Credit - Sky Sports)

One of Rice’s most notable attributes is his leadership on and off the pitch. Most players who get signed for astronomical fees find it hard to forget about their price tag and play good football.

However, it's been different with Rice. Despite being only 25 years old, Rice has demonstrated maturity beyond his years. Since his big-money move from West to North London, he has seamlessly settled in with the squad, quickly becoming a central figure. His ability to organize the team, maintain composure under pressure, and inspire his teammates was instrumental in the Gunners’ strong performances this season as well as a key figure in how the number of Arsenal tickets sales saw an increase.

The England international’s leadership qualities were evident in his role as a midfield general, constantly communicating with teammates, directing play, and ensuring that they never lost their shape. His organizational skill helped Arsenal maintain one of the most robust defensive records in the league. His influence extended to his interactions with referees and opposition players, where he maintained a calm but assertive presence and ensured that Arsenal remained disciplined and focused.

On the pitch: how well did Rice do tactically? 

Defensively, the 25-year-old midfielder proved to be a powerhouse for the Gunners. His ability to read the game, intercept passes, and make crucial tackles was vital as Arteta's men boasted the best defensive record in the Premier League.

Rice’s defensive statistics this season were impressive: he consistently ranked among the top players for interceptions, tackles, and clearances. He made 44 interceptions, 178 ball recoveries, 23 blocks, and won 61.4% of his duels. His presence in the midfield acted as a shield for the backline, breaking up opposition attacks and providing a sense of security to Arsenal’s defense. Whenever Rice was on the ball, it was always an uphill task for opposition play to dispossess him.

The former West Ham man's tackling ability is particularly noteworthy. He combines timing, strength, and technique to win the ball cleanly, often regaining possession for his team in dangerous areas, winning back possession in the final third 28 times. Additionally, his aerial ability made him a formidable opponent in set-piece situations, both defensively and offensively.

Primarily known as a defensive midfielder, Rice displayed an impressive ability to function effectively in various roles. Whether deployed as a box-to-box midfielder, a deep-lying playmaker, or even as a centre-back when required, he adapted seamlessly, maintaining high-performance levels across all positions.

The 25-year-old’s adaptability allowed Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta to employ different tactical approaches without compromising on quality. Rice’s ability to carry the ball forward, and distribute accurately over long and short distances, and his composure under pressure provided the Gunners with tactical flexibility, enabling them to dominate and win games against different opponents.

Rice’s influence on Arsenal's attack 

While primarily known for his defensive capabilities, Rice also made significant contributions in attack for the Gunners. His driving runs from midfield often broke opposition lines, creating space and opportunities for the forward players. Rice’s ability to transition from defense to attack with fluidity added an extra dimension to Arsenal's attacking play.

Rice’s passing range and vision were crucial in building Arsenal’s attacks. His ability to pick out teammates with precise long balls and incisive through passes resulted in numerous goal-scoring opportunities. Additionally, the England international chipped in with a handsome seven goals and eight assists, proving that he was not just a defensive asset, but a well-rounded midfielder capable of influencing the game at both ends of the pitch.

How did Rice fair in the big games?

Declan Rice’s performances in big games were outstanding, further bolstering his case for Player of the Season. Against top-six rivals and in crucial matches, Rice consistently delivered. His ability to rise to the occasion and perform under immense pressure is a testament to his quality and mental strength.

Arsenal's expensive summer signing was the difference when they narrowly beat Manchester City in the first half of the season, and his stoppage-time winner against Manchester United at the Emirates announced his arrival to the Gunners faithful. His performances in these high-stakes games did not only earn him praise but were also pivotal in securing vital points for Arsenal.

A look at other statistics further highlights the English midfielder’s excellence this season. He ranked highly in several key metrics, including interceptions, tackles, passing accuracy, and distance covered. His contributions are measurable and impactful, reflecting his importance to Arsenal's development.

Comparing Rice with Other POTS Contenders

When compared to other contenders for the Player of the Season award, Declan Rice’s all-around impact stands out. While players like Erling Haaland, Phil Foden, Virgil van Dijk, Martin Odegaard, Alexander Isak, and Cole Palmer had exceptional seasons, Rice’s unique combination of defensive solidity, leadership, versatility, and attacking contributions provides a compelling argument for his candidacy.

Unlike some of the other nominees, who operated in more specialized roles for their teams, Rice’s ability to influence the game for the Gunners in multiple ways makes him a more complete player. His importance to Arteta's side is comparable to that of any other top player to their respective teams, and his performances for Arsenal this season make him a worthy recipient of the Premier League Player of the Season award. Perhaps, if Arsenal had won the title, he would have won the award.

Cover Credits - Sky Sports

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