For those long term readers of the blog, you will know I take a pragmatic approach to transfers.
I was never part of the “Spend some f*****g money” brigade. And I was a prominant voice when it came to the Luis Saurez £40m+£1, with major news outlets retweeting my blog on the transfer.
And in recent days, whilst some said “we should just oay the fee” for Mykhailo Mudryk, I was suggesting we walk away.
I try to understand our finances. To try and guestimate what we can spend on players. And how an increased spend on a single player can reduce what we can then spend on another player.
Anyone that has ever bought a house will know the power of negotiations. You do not pay the asking price. You try and drive that price down. The more you can save, the more you can then spend on the refurbishment, on furniture. And save enough you might be able to buy a new car!
Arsenal do not have a bottomless pit of money. We are not Manchester City.
Yes, Stan Kroenke is richer than any of us could ever dream of. He has a networth of around $12.9billion. But Sheikh Mansour controls a family fortune estimated to be around least $1 trillion.
To put that into perspective, $12.9billion in seconds is around 396 years. $1trillion is It takes about 32,000 years.
As a good comparison, Man City have spent £225million on their central defenders. We have spent around £100million. And our figure includes Ben White who has now transformed into a right back.
We also should not compare ourselves to Chelsea.
Their spending is ridiculous right now. But what they are doing now will impact their transfer dealings for the next 3-4 years.
So when the news about Declan Rice broke, my first thought was “that money can be better spent elsewhere.
Originally, West Ham were holding out for a fee in excess of £100million for their captain. Chelsea have held a long term interest in their former Schoolboy player.
I gulped at that price and was firmly in the “no thanks” camp.
The main reason was Thomas Partey.
Partey is the best defensive midfielder in the world right now. Rice would not be an upgrade on him.
Yes, he has had his injury problems in recent seasons, but Arsenal now seem to be managing them well. I also have no concerns about his age.
People act like when a player turns 30, than their body completely breaks down. This is not true, every player is different.
In 2019/20, he played 41 times for Manchester City. He was 35-years-old. In his final season, as he turned 37, he played 33 matches.
There is no need for us to be discussing replacing Thomas Partey just because he turns 30 at the end of the season. And Declan Rice would be a Partey replacement.
I thought the more sensible route would be to buy someone younger and rawer, who would also be cheaper. Danilo and Moises Caciedo were the two names floated.
They could then play “2nd fiddle” to Partey for a year or two whilst they continue to learn and develop. Then the transition happens and they become first choice. Both are just 21 so it would not be an issue being a squad player at a title challenging team knowing they have a path to the first team.
Instead of signing Rice for £100million, you go and get someone younger, someone cheaper, and then use the difference to further add to the team elsewhere.
A few weeks ago, I would have said “you can get Mudryk and Danilo for the price of Declan Rice”. And a double move for those two made a lot of sense. Mudryk is now at Chelsea, Danilo and Nottingham Forest.
And maybe with what has happened with both indicates the interest in Rice – had we over spent on Mudryk, it would have left us less money to try and secure the England man.
In the last few days, I have had a change of heart. I can now build a case for buying Rice in my head.
Lower price for Rice
Last summer, West Ham made it clear – they want Jack Grealish money for Declan Rice. This is where the £100million valuation came from.
6 months down the line and Arsenal are being linked with an £80million move.
If we were looking to invest £100million on a winger and central midfielder previously, then £80million on Rice would leave us with the money to sign someone like Facundo Torres or Marcus Thuram. Or finance a year long loan deal for Joao Felix.
Rice has once year left on his contract – although West Ham do have an option to extend by a year.
That means this summer he will have 2-years left (West Ham will extend). If West Ham do not sell this summer, his value will plummet.
They are also in a relegation battle. If they do go down, there is no guarantee they will come straight back up. And that will reduce his value in 2024 further. It also reduces what they can demand this summer as he will not want to play Championship football.
His reduced value is also due to the list of his suitors reducing.
Other than Arsenal, there are only 5 Premier League sides would be able to snap Rice up, and offer him the regular European football and trophies.
All 5 need to make improvements in midfield. But there is another Englishman potentially on the market who might garner their interest – Jude Bellingham.
Manchester City – They have Rodri and have invested in Kalvin Phillips. They will probably have no interest in Rice. Jude Bellingham, who plays further forward – will be their primary midfield target. He will be seen as a long term 8, replacing Kevin de Bruyne.
Liverpool – Like City, their focus will be on Bellingham. They would only switch their interest to Rice if Bellingham joins Manchester City.
Chelsea – Most expect Chelsea to snap up Rice in the summer. For me they still lead the race. But having invested so heavily in last two-windows, they will need to sell to buy this summer. Can they shift enough players in tiem to fund a big move for Rice?
Newcastle – Rice would be a real coup for the newly rich team. Their first real “mega star”. If they get Champions League football, they immediately become more attractive for players.
Manchester United have recently recruited Casemiro and Tottenham will not be a decent proposition for any ambitious player. They are just a richer West Ham.
With City and Liverpool’s eyes elsewhere, and Chelsea needing to sell to buy, the path to Rice could end up being clear for Arsenal if we move early enough.
What we will not want to do is drag negotiations out – this will give Chelsea the time to raise the funds and could also see Liverpool or Manchester City join the race if they do not get Bellingham.
Fits the priofile
Under Edu and Mikel Arteta, we have had a very clear profile for the majority of our signings – 25 or under, Premier League experience.
Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Martin Odegaard have been our 5 major first team signings under the current leadership team. All 5 fit that criteria. And all 5 made an instant impact.
Rice also fits that criteria.
By the end of this season, Rice would have played over 200 Premier League games – and close to 250 in total for West Ham. Still just 24-years-old, he is their club captain and a good, solid pro. He ticks all the boxes for what Edu and Arteta want.
I am not interested in the debate over who is petter – Partey or Rice. Partey is better. Although Rice is in the Top 5 Premier League defensive midfielders alongside Partey, Rodri and Casemiro.
Rice would probabvly be 4th on this list just because he has not yet played at the highest level with a top club.
Replacing Partey with Rice would make no sense. So the next question is “can we accomodate Rice and Partey?”.
Initially I was looking at a “sorcerer and his apprentice” model – Partey as the senior pro and then someone 20-22 still learning. Rice would not be an apprentice and would leave us with 2 sorcerer’s.
We will play around 55 games next season. And with Champions League rather than Europa League, we can not really afford to only play Partey once a week. He will be needed in both the Premier League and Champions League. And that is the concern.
In his first season with us, Partey started 24 out of 58 games. He missed, or was on the bench for, 34 games.
Last season we still played 45 games despite not having European football. Partey started 24.
This season we have managed Partey’s game time to keep him fit for the Premier League. That has led him to start 15 of 26 games (at the time of writing).
Of the 129 games Arsenal have played since signing Partey, he has started 63. That is 48.8% of games.
So if we play 55 games in 2023/24, we should only expect Partey to be fit for 27 of them. That will leave 28 starts for someone else. Would that be enough to justify signing Rice?
Add in substitute appearances and you would expect both Partey and the second defensive midfielder to play around 40 games.
It would then be down to Arteta over which of the two starts in the big games.
An extra option
Signing Rice would also allow us to play Partey and Rice in tandem.
It is not too hard to make a case for us to play the pair away to Manchester City. You then either play Granit Xhaka (for further defensive cover), or Martin Odegaard.
I would also imagine that if we signed Rice, our pursuit for a “new 8” would end. We would play either Rice or Partey further forward if Xhaka was out injured.
Our midfield options would then be: Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard, Rice & Fabio Vieira.
Five men for 3 positions is a good place to be.
I do not think Thomas Partey will leave any time soon. But I also do not think he will sign a new deal.
At 29, he is not over the hill – Casimiro is older! – but we know his injury history, the data.
How much injury management is going on right now? How many injections or painkillers is he is whilst we try and chase down the league title?
If we are having to manage his playing time at 29, it will only be a matter of time until the next injury comes along.
He also only has 2-years left on his contract. His current deal takes him through to being 33. At that point he will need replacing in the same way Rodri replaced Fernandinho.
Succession planning is so important to a football club. And the lack of adequete planning is why Chelsea now have an ageing squad and are having to spend huge on a rebuild.
Getting Rice in now will mean we have to worry less about managing Partey’s injuries. And even less worried about the drop off in quality.
You would basically have a situation where Rice and Partey job share for a year. And then the Englishman will probably take over full-time with Partey being 2nd choice for the final year of his contract.
With one-year to go, Arsenal would not get much in terms of fee for Partey, so we would be better keeping him for that last year and letting him leave for free.
If Partey is still fit, he may be happy to then spend a couple more years with us as a second choice player; in the same way Fernandinho was secondary to Rodri.
In 2025, we then have a 33-year-old Partey whose contract is coming to an end and a 26-year-old Rice. We would still have 5+ years of Rice playing at a high level.
And in 2025, you then buy the younger man and revert to sourcerer/apprentice (if Partey does not sign to stay on).
I still do not think spending big on a 6 was high on the agenda over the next two windows. We were probably looking at cheaper, younger options and then investing heavier elsewhere.
18 months time would probably have been when we would look to invest in that area. If the younger lad bought in had shown he was not up for it, I would have expected us to go big. But if they have proven to be Partey’s heir apparent, then it would look like great planning!
The Rice deal might be a year or so too early, but it is an opporunity that has risen that can not be missed.
Signing Rice will see sacrifices elsewhere.
We will not get him and then spend big on a winger. And I think it means we will not get an 8.
Our windows (including this) would then be: Rice, budget winger, cheap central defender.
It would still see us spend £120-150million. But it will just see the funds ring fenced for a top winger moved into Rice, and the funds ringfenced for a Partey understudy moved to the winger.