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  • By Charlie Stong at Emirates Stadium

Emirates crowd get first glimpse of £105m man Rice

By Charlie Stong at Emirates Stadium

The roots of the success of the early Wenger years can, for Arsenal supporters of a certain age, be traced to one particular day.

The performance of Patrick Vieira as a gangly young debutant against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in September 1996 was a hint that the good times may be returning.

This was someone who was clearly a number of steps up from many of the midfielders the club had fielded in the mid-1990s.

But one summer prior to that, and before the arrival of the great Frenchman himself, came the signing of the man who many believe is the greatest to ever wear the red and white – Dennis Bergkamp.

For the half-decade before his arrival the club had been in the mire, at least relative to their success in the mid-George Graham era.

The pain of a lowly league finish in 1992-93 was soothed somewhat by a double cup triumph that year.

But after Graham left with his tail between his legs, and Bruce Rioch took over, things were looking bleak.

Then came the big moment.

Bergkamp, an established, undoubted world-class great already, was the biggest signing the club has arguably ever made. It was a statement to the rest of the division that Arsenal were back.

And whether it was Rioch who actually orchestrated the signing himself, or if it was Wenger pulling the strings from Nagoya, it was a move which changed the very fabric of the club.

With the possible exception of the divisive Mesut Ozil aside, Arsenal have not made a signing of such an established player, and there has not been such excitement over the arrival of one, in the 28 years since.

Until, that was, the moment this summer when they finally managed to prise Declan Rice away from West Ham.

Rice is 24 and approaching the best years of his career, which he will spend at the Emirates. He is an established England international. And whatever you think of Europe’s third club competition, he is now a winner.

You need to look no further than how adored he was – still is by many – at West Ham to know exactly how good he is.

This evening he stepped out on to the Emirates turf for the first time, to a rapturous ovation from the sell-out crowd for this friendly against Monaco.

What was immediately noticeable was how Rice does the simple, often overlooked things with ease. His positioning when out of possession is assured, helping to win back the ball.

And once he has it, he finds his pass, usually a simple one.

His ball across the face of the box after 20 minutes may have been met by a striker busting a gut in the Premier League, as opposed to one maybe not wanting to get injured in the Emirates Cup.

Soon after he linked up well down the left again, playing a simple ball to get the move going before receiving it back near the byline and teeing up another inviting cross.

Within seconds he was back at the other end toe-poking a ball off Eliesse Ben Seghir, breaking down a threatening move.

It was clear that here was a man who will create, but who is just as adept at protecting the back line.

He also seemed equally confident on his right foot as on his left.

He could have capped his performance with a goal, taking a pass from the right in his stride and flicking it past one defender, but he was stopped at the last by the second.

If anyone cares, Arsenal won on penalties, after a 1-1 draw. The real stuff starts in 10 days’ time.

Bergkamp’s are almost impossible boots to fill, but if Rice gets anywhere close to what the Dutchman brought to this club, the fans are in for a fun few years.

Picture: Charlie Stong


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