Arsenal

Arsenal legend Paul Merson spotted what Mikel Arteta was “crying out for” three years ago

Paul Merson originally called for his former side Arsenal to sign Declan Rice three years before Mikel Arteta actually succeeded in landing the midfielder’s signature

Arsenal legend Paul Merson encouraged Mikel Arteta to try and sign Declan Rice three years before the Gunners boss eventually landed the midfielder’s signature.

The north Londoners have reaped the benefits of boasting Rice in their current crop all season, following his £105million move from West Ham in the summer. However, who knows what the Gunners could have achieved by now if they had managed to pry him away from their London rivals when Merson first issued his advice.

Speaking weeks after the Premier League had been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Merson made clear that Arsenal’s midfield needed strengthening and that Rice was the man for the job. At the time, Chelsea were the favourites to lure the England ace from east London.

Rice has previous with the Blues, having been in their academy before being released on the same day as future Arsenal team-mate Eddie Nketiah. The relentless speculation touting him with a return to Stamford Bridge were understandable, but Merson had other ideas.

Speaking in March 2020, the Gunners icon told Sky Sports: “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.

He went on to double down on his stance, adding: “It’s such a hard job and that’s why I can’t believe Arsenal aren’t going in for a player like Rice. 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.”

Rice has gone on to achieve more than Merson had initially tipped him to do. The Three Lions star has popped up with two stoppage time winners as well as a stunning goal away at Chelsea in his first half-a-season as a Gunners player.

Arsenal fell short in their bid to win the title last time, but with Rice anchoring their midfield this time around there is renewed optimism the Gunners can go one better and lift their first league title since 2004.

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