Arsenal

Paul Merson hails Arsenal 24-year-old as Mikel Arteta’s best player ‘by a million miles’

Arsenal legend Paul Merson has urged Mikel Arteta to wrap Declan Rice up in ‘cotton wool’ as the midfielder has been their best player ‘by a million miles’ so far this term.

The 24-year-old left Merson in awe as Arsenal ran riot to beat RC Lens 6-0 in the Champions League this Wednesday night. Rice started the Group B encounter for his fifth appearance in the UEFA competition to date. He has started in all five of the Gunners’ matches this season.

Rice had never featured in the Champions League before signing for Arsenal from West Ham United in a club-record transfer. He had only played 10 fixtures in the Europa League and 11 fixtures in the Europa Conference League over the previous two seasons with the Hammers.

Merson hails Rice after starring in Arsenal’s win over Lens

Yet Arsenal signing Rice has given the 48-cap England international the platform to prove he belongs in the Champions League. Arteta has relished watching the Irons product help them run the show in Europe. He anchored the Gunners’ engine room to perfection against Lens.

Rice mopped up possession time and time again near enough whenever Lens threatened to test Arsenal. His drive in possession and superb distribution also teed the Gunners up to test Les Sang et Or. Gunners fans rightly rose to give Rice a standing ovation when he walked off.

Arteta substituted Rice after 75 minutes in Arsenal’s 6-0 beating of Lens as the boss looked ahead to Saturday’s Premier League game at Emirates Stadium against Wolves. He was keen to manage his minutes having started the midfielder in 19 of his 20 outings from 21 fixtures.

Rice has opened all 13 of Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures and their five Champions League ties since moving to north London. He also started the Community Shield during August. So, Merson is keen for Arteta to take care of Rice given how brilliant he has played with Arsenal.

“I’d probably bring off Rice now if I’m honest,” Merson told Sky Sports three minutes before Jorginho replaced the London-born anchor at home to Lens. “He’s been their best player by a million miles this season. [Arteta has] got to wrap him up in cotton wool.”

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