Declan Rice is the Premier League’s most influential player – he is Arsenal’s Roy Keane

Declan Rice is the most influential player in the Premier League – he is Arsenal's Roy Keane
Declan Rice looks certain to become captain of Arsenal, and perhaps also England - Getty Images/Stuart MacFarlane
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Declan Rice, at £105 million, is a bargain for Arsenal. There are certain players who move for astronomical fees and are almost guaranteed to be successful. I feel the same way about Rice that I felt about Roy Keane when he joined Manchester United for a British record fee in 1993, and Alan Shearer when he joined Newcastle United in 1996. Harry Kane is another; he was a guarantee for Bayern Munich this summer.

From the moment he joined Arsenal, you knew that Rice would be brilliant. He has been probably the most influential player in the Premier League this season and, every time I watch him, he reminds me of Keane. He has that same presence, and he has a passing ability that is incredibly underrated.

When you think of the great midfielders of the past, they all had an aura on the pitch. Keane had it, and so did players like Graeme Souness and Bryan Robson. I see those same qualities in Rice, who could be the difference for Arsenal this season as they challenge for the title.

There is no bigger compliment I can give to Rice than this: I would rather have him in my team than Rodri. The Manchester City midfielder has been arguably the best player in the Treble-winning side, alongside Erling Haaland and Bernardo Silva, and he scored the winner in the Champions League final. He is a brilliant player, but I would still rather have Rice.

Not many footballers have the ability and personality required to go into a big club and instantly become one of the top men in the squad. Jude Bellingham has done it at Real Madrid and Rice has done the same at Arsenal. It already feels like he has been an Arsenal player for five years.

Watching Rice reminds me of when I was coming through the academy at Liverpool. We were always told to put pace on our passes, to fizz the ball into the feet of our team-mates. Rice does that – he punches it into his team-mates. It sets the tone for everything else.

We often think of great passers as the players who produce defence-splitting through balls or 60-yard switches of play, but sometimes the best passers are those who can break the lines over shorter distances. The holding midfielder’s job is to get the ball to his front players, quickly and sharply, along the floor. Keane was brilliant at that, and so is Rice.

Rice used to be criticised by other pundits for not scoring enough goals, but that was never his job at West Ham United. He was playing as a defensive midfielder, under a defensive manager in David Moyes. We never judged the likes of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira on their goal tallies, so why were people criticising Rice for it? It always felt strange.

Now Rice is playing for Arsenal and he already has three goals in the league. If he ends up scoring seven or eight times this season, that would be a great return for a holding midfield player. Vieira, for example, never scored more than six goals in a single league campaign.

Rice’s three goals have all been important, too. He has scored two late winners, against Manchester United and Luton Town, and his long-range effort against Chelsea marked the start of Arsenal’s comeback at Stamford Bridge.

Declan Rice - Declan Rice is the Premier League’s most influential player – he is Arsenal’s Roy Keane
Rice's goals have been influential, rather than coming as luxury - Getty Images/Mark Leech

Those three goals have won Arsenal five points – without them, Mikel Arteta’s side would be third in the league and behind Aston Villa, their opponents this weekend. These are big moments, defining the outcomes of big matches.

The most underrated attribute in football is availability and Rice never seems to miss a game. When I look back at my career, that is something I am incredibly proud of: over a period of 10 seasons, between 2000 and 2010, I played at least 50 games in nine of them. With Rice, it will almost certainly be the same. You know he is going to be on the pitch 50 times a season, as he was in his last two years at West Ham.

As was always the case with Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, it feels inevitable that Rice will one day captain Arsenal. With Gerrard, all the players in the Liverpool squad knew that his time would come. I expect it is the same at Arsenal, and probably with England – although he may be in a battle with Bellingham to replace Kane as captain one day.

For Arsenal, the move for Rice was a no-brainer. I believe we will be talking about him as an Arsenal great in seven or eight years, and that his £105 million fee will look like a snip. Ultimately, he could be for Arsenal what Virgil van Dijk has been for Liverpool. Van Dijk cost £75 million but, after everything he has achieved at Anfield, that fee is rightly regarded as a bargain.

City were interested, of course, and there would have been no chance for Arsenal this season if Rice had gone to the Etihad instead of the Emirates. With him in their team, Arsenal have a player who will become a club legend – and a man who could bring the Premier League title back to north London.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.