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Arsenal’s remarkable rise to the top of the Premier League table has won them a host of admirers in England and beyond. Within that growing number they can count one particularly interesting man, West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.
Mikel Arteta has made the England international his primary target for the summer transfer window, when Arsenal will be looking to strengthen their midfield for what is likely to be their first Champions League campaign since the 2016-17 season. Only a few months ago it would have been hard to imagine the Gunners being a serious contender for Rice, who has been coveted by some of the top sides in England and Europe, but their progress has caught the eye of many.
Sources say that Rice has been speaking of Arsenal in glowing terms to his team mates, pronouncing himself stunned with the progress the north London side has made. Indeed his private comments about the Gunners are said to be even more effusive than those in public, where he labelled them “a top team” that “you can see [are] coached incredibly well” after West Ham’s 3-1 loss at the Emirates Stadium on Boxing Day.
Rice’s circle have been planning for a move away for West Ham, who are currently battling against relegation from the Premier League. Were they to drop out of the top flight, the Hammers would find it hard to resist a knockdown sale.
Arsenal are confident that they can get their man, who would serve as an immediate rival and long term successor to Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka, both of whom will be in their 30s when the new season begins. They are unlikely to be alone in their pursuit of Rice, with Manchester United having been tracking him for some time, though for now Casemiro is firmly ensconced as their lodestone in midfield.
Chelsea are also long term admirers of their former academy prospect. For a time it seemed they were the natural club to secure the 24 year old’s services but, 10th in the table with a 10 point gap to fourth, they face an uphill task to secure the Champions League football that Rice wants next season.
“One hundred per cent, I want to play in the Champions League,” he said in December. “For the last two or three years, I’ve been saying that. I’ve been playing consistently well for my club and I feel like I really want to keep pushing. I see my friends here who are playing Champions League and for big trophies.”
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Declan Rice transfer: Arsenal on West Ham midfielder's radar, privately praising Gunners as viable destination – CBS Sports