Its been a half season without West Ham’s former captain Declan Rice. Ironically his former team has set a new record for best ever start in the Premiere league and his new team seems to have had a set back. Its the strange thing about perceived great players. Sometimes great players don’t make for great teams.
Arsenal fans immediately fell in love with Rice as soon as he signed. He helped them raise a Community Shield trophy to start the season and looks at times like one of the best players in the world. While West Ham received a record breaking transfer fee for a British player at 105 million most people now believe they could have gotten even more. 120 to 130 million can be justified. Despite his increase in value, West Ham fans have to admit the squad is better without him. In exchange for his transfer fee, West Ham have so far been able to rebuild their mid-field and secure Edson Alvarez, James Ward Prowse and Mohammed Kudos.
So whats been the difference. “As young as he was he still formed a large shadow,” says as team source. “During matches he had inherited so much responsibility that at times the players and even the manager were guilty of deferring to him too much. Sometimes the hype of the player spills onto the field, its not Declan’s fault of course and maybe one day he’ll be able to handle even more, but for this team it was more than he should have been given.”
Multiple team sources confirmed that Moyes’ counter attacking style was run through Rice more than it was players such as Jarred Bowen and Lucas Paqueta who were better suited to get the ball into the final third.
“What you have now is multiple players getting involved” the source said. “There’s seems to be more players confidently jumping in and joining the run. That wouldn’t happen if Declan were here.”
Hence seeing players like Thomas Soucek step up more now and getting inside the box. Counter attacking for West Ham this year has truly become a team effort. Emerson, Vladimir Coufal, Kudos, Bowen, Paqueta and James Ward Prowse all jump in on counter attack and it looks more natural than when it was attempted last year.
Defensively, while no one is saying Edson Alvarez is a better overall player than Rice, be has shown to be a much better defensive force. Rice is the type of player that went where he was needed and covered a lot of the field. Instead Alvarez protects the box and is a more stay at home defensive player. The last couple of seasons Soucek would stay back while Rice would join the rush, a role Soucek was clearly uncomfortable with. The roles are now reversed with Alvarez staying back and allowing both Soucek and Ward Prowse to move forward and the team has benefited from the extra scoring.
“Stability” the source says. “Declan needed to be in more than one place on the field at times. Right now there are more defined roles. Even when they are leaving their position they are doing so with confidence and knowing Alvarez is there. We believe they’ll keep getting better at it.”
At Arsenal what made Rice so fantastic at West Ham he has doubled down on. He carries the ball confidently and plays the role of a number 6 perfectly on a team filled with talent at every position. With so many talented players maybe part of the issue in North London is there isn’t enough ball to go around. I’ll spare you the analysis, but its clear that at times Arsenal’s offense slows down and becomes a battle of individuals. The issue didn’t just arrive when Rice showed up, but the perception is that its happening more now than it last season. In both losses to West Ham this season, Rice did not touch the ball as frequently as he normally does. He was marked and everytime he took possession there seemed to be a former teeamate there to greet him. In both games Alvarez played like a man possessed.
The biggest change is in the chemistry of the team. The story goes, Mark Noble would greet every new player as soon as they arrived at Rush Green. He would help get them situated, be by their side throughout the paperwork process and then take them out to a dinner or lunch depending on the time of day. Noble would become part of their onboarded process sot to speak. There would be immediate chemistry as Noble introduced new players to their teammates and staff.
That all went away last season. And it absolutely showed. Players like Gianluca Scammaca, Thilo Kehrer and Maxell Cornet never assimilated to the team. There were times where a captain needed to step in and put his arm around another player, but it just never happened. Moyes and Michail Antonio brutal assessment of Scammaca needed an intervention. That never happened either.
Its clear the leadership suffered from Noble to RIce and maybe his age and some inexperience meant he wesn’t ready to take on that role so soon. At Arsenal he gets to blend in with other stars and doesnt have to worry about those responsibilities. Sources added that veteran players didn’t seem comfortable with Rice as their captain. A mistake that now has been rectified.
Long term this may still work out for both teams. Afterall Rice got what he wanted and when he went North. West Ham got an injection of cash that helped them bring in big pieces. Fans on social media still are split. There are a lot of fans that can’t let go of losing the prodigal son. West Ham are currently on track to finish Top 6 and make a long run in Europa. Maybe then the sting of losing him will have dissipated.
If you need more ways to move on from Declan Rice feel free to reread: Ten Declan Rice negatives to help West Ham fans move on.