Declan Rice: Big-money signings and the prospects of Premier League success
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Declan Rice: Big-money signings and the prospects of Premier League success

With Declan Rice having moved from West Ham to Arsenal for a club record £105 million, we have analysed the Premier League’s most expensive transfers over the past decade to assess his and the Gunners’ prospects ahead of the new season.

Will Rice have an instant impact?

Using data from Transfermarkt, we have identified the 100 costliest summer signings since 2013-14. Rice tops the list ahead of Manchester City’s Jack Grealish (£100m), with Chelsea’s record-breaking purchase of Enzo Fernandez (£106.8m) having occurred in January.

To measure a player’s impact on their new club, we have also looked at the number of matches played by each arrival in their first season. We define success as playing in more than 30 league games in their debut campaign.

Perhaps surprisingly, pricey strikers and wingers have been more likely to feature regularly in their first season at a new club than midfielders and defenders over the past decade.

Wolves’ Raul Jimenez played the full 38 matches either side of the coronavirus lockdown in 2019-20, following his permanent move from Benfica, while Mohamed Salah, Felipe Anderson and Romelu Lukaku made 36 appearances in their debut seasons for Liverpool, West Ham and Everton respectively.

Rice will be hoping to emulate Manchester City’s Rodri, his predecessor Fernandinho and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante by playing a key role in a title race in his first season. However, he will first have to displace Thomas Partey – Arsenal’s regular holding midfielder from last season – or else he could find himself in the same predicament as England team-mate Kalvin Phillips, who spent most of 2022-23 on the sidelines for City following a £42m move from Leeds.

Reassuringly for the ex-West Ham captain, the Gunners have the best record of integrating their big-money signings among the top Premier League clubs.

Six of their 12 purchases (50 per cent) in our analysis went on to play more than 30 matches in their first season, compared with 36 out of 88 (41 per cent) at other teams. Martin Odegaard – signed from Real Madrid in 2021 – and Ben White (from Brighton) are among Mikel Arteta’s success stories.

In contrast, Manchester United have a very poor record in the transfer market since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. The Red Devils have shelled out for 18 of the 100 most expensive Premier League buys in that time, but only five of them have breached 30 appearances in their debut campaign.

United’s failure to capitalise on the Ligue 1 market has contributed to their transfer woes. Players from the French top flight have adapted quicker on average than those from other leagues, with half of the 14 arrivals playing more than 30 times in their first season.

Moving between Premier League clubs has far from guaranteed success. The majority of expensive transfers from one English team to another have failed to pass 30 league appearances in their debut season.

Danny Drinkwater (Leicester to Chelsea in 2017), Phillips (Leeds to Manchester City in 2022) and Wesley Fofana (Leicester to Chelsea in 2022) are among those who struggled to make an immediate impact at their new club.

How does Rice compare with the competition?

Arteta has been quick to describe Rice as a ‘lighthouse’ who will improve the players around him, as well as praising his ‘physical qualities’ that Arsenal were missing.

We have compared the England midfielder with the best players in the Premier League in his position, namely Manchester City’s Rodri, Arsenal’s Partey, Manchester United’s Casemiro, Brighton’s Moises Caicedo and Newcastle’s Bruno Guimaraes.

Rice trails his counterparts in several attacking stats such as goals, assists and passes attempted, having played in a struggling West Ham side last term.

However, some of his underlying statistics shed light on his unique qualities. The 24-year-old is adept at driving forward from deep in midfield with the ball at his feet, having led his rivals for progressive carries in 2022-23. Meanwhile, in defence he relies on his positioning to win back possession, again ranking top for interceptions while trailing everyone apart from Rodri for tackles made.

Will Arsenal’s spending spree pay off?

Looking to build on their surprise runner-up finish last season, Arsenal have already racked up the largest summer transfer spend in their history by paying £105m for Rice, £65m for Chelsea’s Havertz and £38m for Ajax defender Jurrien Timber.

The outlays rank first, second and 10th respectively for most expensive transfers this summer.

Of the 10 clubs who accounted for at least three of the 10 biggest signings in a summer window since 2013-14, seven went on to improve their points tally in the following season.

Liverpool saw the biggest uplift in 2018-19 following the arrival of goalkeeper Alisson and midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keita. The Reds pushed Manchester City all the way in a record-breaking title race, ending on 97 points having amassed just 75 points in the previous season.

Meanwhile, Manchester United experienced a similar upturn last season under Erik ten Hag, following a busy transfer window that saw Antony, Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez arrive at Old Trafford for hefty fees.

That said, heavy investment in new players does not always pay off – just ask Chelsea fans. The Blues splurged more than £250m last summer and a further £300m in January, only to finish in 12th place with their lowest Premier League points tally (44).

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