Declan Rice names the Arsenal player who has surprised him most this season

Declan Rice has revealed the player that has surprised him most since joining Arsenal.

The England midfielder has quickly become an indispensable part of Mikel Arteta’s title-chasing team in north London following a long-running summer transfer saga that eventually saw him leave West Ham in a blockbuster switch worth up to £105million.

Rice has missed just one game across all competitions so far in his hugely impressive debut campaign at the Emirates Stadium, sitting out the Carabao Cup third-round win over London rivals Brentford back in September with a back issue.

Otherwise the 25-year-old has been an ever-present figure in the Arsenal midfield amid injury problems for other key players, scoring four goals and providing five assists in 36 matches across all competitions to date in 2023/24.

Rice has been an integral part of a scintillating bounce back from the Gunners’ worrying mid-season wobble that has seen Arteta’s men open 2024 with six consecutive top-flight wins in which they have notched an incredible 25 goals to move within just two points of leaders Liverpool at the Premier League summit.

While in-form Arsenal have been scoring for fun of late despite the absence of a clear-cut No9 amid Gabriel Jesus’ ongoing injury issues and Bukayo Saka becoming the first Gunners player since Olivier Giroud in 2015 to net in five successive top-flight games, it is defensively where Rice has been most impressed.

Speaking to TNT Sports ahead of Saturday night’s 4-1 home demolition of Newcastle in which they rebounded quickly from a shock last-gasp Champions League last-16 first-leg defeat away in Porto in midweek courtesy of goals from Kai Havertz, Saka and Jakub Kiwior to follow an early Sven Botman own goal, Rice was effusive in his praise of William Saliba and spoke of his surprise at the quality of centre-back partner Gabriel.

Declan Rice has been left surprised by the performances of Gabriel for Arsenal (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Declan Rice has been left surprised by the performances of Gabriel for Arsenal (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

“I can’t speak highly enough of them, I’m not going to sit here and lie,” Rice said.

“I think Saliba is unbelievable, obviously I heard about all the talk of him before I came here and the one who’s really surprised me is actually Gabriel.

“He’s so aggressive, so strong, really wants it all the time, never loses a duel.

“When you’ve got two centre-backs like that who want it, play aggressive, it really helps and gives you confidence.”