London: Mikel Arteta expects Declan Rice to play a pivotal role in Arsenal’s return to the Champions League as the England midfielder prepares to make his debut in the tournament against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.
The Gunners are back in the Champions League for the first time since 2016/17, giving Rice his first taste of Europe’s elite club competition after his close-season move from West Ham.
Arteta splashed out £100 million ($124 million) on the midfielder precisely for occasions such as PSV’s visit to the Emirates Stadium in Arsenal’s opening Group B fixture.
The 24-year-old has made a confident start to life with Arsenal, scoring his first goal for the club in dramatic fashion against Manchester United on September 3.
Rice’s finish deep into stoppage time put Arsenal on course for a 3-1 win in their first meeting with a top-four rival this season.
It was a perfectly timed reminder of the quality Rice brings to Arteta’s side as they try to make amends for last season’s late collapse in the Premier League title race.
Arsenal squandered an eight-point lead in the final weeks of the season as Manchester City ended the Gunners’ bid for a first title since 2004.
Arteta believes Rice’s astute reading of the game and unflappable demeanour strengthens his team, praising him after the win against United.
“How he breaks up play, how he glues the team together in many moments when it was stretched a little bit,” he said. “He was really dominant and then produced a magic moment to win the game.”
And the Arsenal boss said his new signing can also be a regular goal threat.
“For sure and when you see the technical ability that he has and how he executed it in this moment, his range when he’s shooting from range, his accuracy, the power that he generates with no space, with both legs, he can do it with both feet. He’s got the timing to arrive in the box.”
Along with helping Arsenal challenge for the title — the north Londoners are two points behind leaders Manchester City after Sunday’s 1-0 win at Everton — Rice will be firmly in the spotlight in the Champions League.
Having played his entire career with West Ham until this season, he has never experienced the thrill of lining up while the Champions League anthem booms out before kick-off.
But he will finally be able to tick that off his bucket list on Wednesday.
“I’m so excited for that. I’ve said for many years now that I’ve wanted to play in the Champions League,” Rice said.
“I’ve wanted to push myself at the biggest level. This opportunity at Arsenal has arisen. It’s a great club.”
Rice making his mark
Rice has already made his mark in continental action, captaining West Ham to their first major trophy since 1980 last season when they won the Europa Conference League.
He has made his mark for England as well, featuring as the fulcrum of Gareth Southgate’s midfield in their run to the European Championship final in 2021 and impressing at last year’s World Cup.
Despite their lengthy absence from the Champions League, the Gunners are expected to progress from a relatively undemanding group featuring Sevilla and Lens as well as PSV.
But Rice knows he must use Arsenal’s opening group fixtures to show he can dominate at the highest level, with his sights already set on inspiring his side to a maiden Champions League triumph.
“At the end of the day you get one career, and I want to be as successful as I can with Arsenal, make as many Champions League appearances as possible and hopefully one day get my hands on that trophy,” he said.