Transfer news roundup
Rice, Timber, Mount, Onana, Henderson and Fabinho
Hi, everyone. Been a busy summer, no? Plenty of transfer gossip to get us through the quiet months. Let’s dive in.
I should say to the person who wanted me to cover Sandro Tonali that I’m planning a broader article on Newcastle, so I’ll save my thoughts for then.
Stats are from FBRef unless stated otherwise.
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Declan Rice joins Arsenal, along with Jurrien Timber
We knew it was coming, but now it’s official. Arsenal made Declan Rice their number-one target at the start of the summer and now they have their man. Jurrien Timber isn’t quite as big a story, but he’s still an interesting purchase.
The first choice midfield next season is obviously Rice as the deepest player (which many people WRONGLY call a number six), with Martin Ødegaard and Kai Havertz in front of him. I’m sure there will be certain games where he plays slightly higher up and Jorginho comes into the deeper role, but that should be an occasional short-term solution. If Rice spends most of the rest of his career at Arsenal, he will be playing as a defensive midfielder.
That’s different to how Manchester City viewed him. City wanted him as a player who would be useful across the midfield, as a rotation option for Rodri but more often in a role higher up the pitch. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think that’s the right use of Rice. At West Ham, he needed to be involved in everything because he was the team’s best player, and it’s a waste to have your key man just sitting in front of the defence. Rice is useful on the ball, but I think his quality in possession has been overstated a bit by just how much West Ham need to use him (Aaron Moniz had a good Twitter thread on this). At Arsenal, he’ll be playing with teammates who are genuinely outstanding on the ball, and as such will be better served in the deeper role, where his ball-stopping abilities are really top-class.
Having spent his whole life in London, he should have no off-field adaptation issues. His reputation inside football is that he’s an excellent and dedicated professional. Famously, Rice lost his place in the Chelsea academy at age 14. Getting that kind of brutal rejection so young would totally crush many people, and it speaks exceptionally well of his mental resolve that Rice just picked himself up and started over at West Ham. At almost every level in his career, he’s outperformed people's expectations of him. I know it’s very hard to read much into this, but during interviews, he consistently comes across as both confident and thoughtful. There’s a reason he’s widely seen as the next England captain when Harry Kane eventually retires.
If Rice is a key starter, Timber is definitely more of a squad player. For most of last season, Arsenal had an excellent back four with Ben White moved over to right back, William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães in the middle, and Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left. That was great until injury hit. Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu’s fitness problems meant they couldn’t be reliable alternate options, while Rob Holding and Jakub Kiwior just didn’t look like the required standard. Timber is comfortable filling in across the back four. If Saliba were to get injured again, Arsenal would have flexibility, either playing Timber inside or moving White in and putting Timber on the right. One centre back injury shouldn’t derail a season again.
Both signings are certainly expensive. For Rice, it speaks to how integral he is to Arteta’s vision, reportedly being the top name on a shortlist of one. For Timber, we can see how much Arteta realised that they were light at the back, spending a hefty chunk of money for a squad player so that this doesn’t happen again. They’re not cheap, but I like both deals.
Man Utd sign Mount
Another one that wasn’t exactly a shock. Lots of English teams wanted to sign Mason Mount once it was clear he wouldn’t renew at Chelsea, but we’ve known for a while that Old Trafford was his preference, so it was just about dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. But now he’s arrived, put on the shirt, and appeared in a preseason friendly.
Not unlike his childhood best friend Rice, Mount’s best position has been a bit of a question. The manager he’s most associated with, Frank Lampard, played Mount in a variety of roles but most often as the most advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3, quite literally the “Lampard role”. Gareth Southgate has used him similarly for England, often as a sort of halfway player between a central midfielder and a number ten (though he’s recently been dropped for Jude Bellingham). Thomas Tuchel, however, played him in a more advanced role as the ten behind two strikers. That’s where he’s spent the majority of his Chelsea career. He’s definitely shown the tactical intelligence to adapt to whatever different managers ask of him.
In the friendly against Leeds, Mount played as a central midfielder just ahead of Kobbie Mainoo in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Hannibal Mejbri as the number ten, according to Carl Anka. This is interesting. We should perhaps think of him as a direct replacement for Marcel Sabitzer and an alternative to Christian Eriksen. He’s obviously more similar to Sabitzer than Eriksen, using his engine to get into the box and cause problems despite starting from deep.
I think we might see more of a 4-3-3 shape in certain games, with Mount and Eriksen both playing ahead of Casemiro. Yes, that would mean benching Bruno Fernandes, but there are specific circumstances where that’s the right call. I’m not sure all of Fernandes, Mount and Eriksen can start together, so it will presumably be two from three in most games. This gives plenty of options to switch things up and keep everyone fresh. United aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but this signing should certainly help Erik ten Hag get closer to what he wants.
Keep reading after the break to read about André Onana joining Mount at Old Trafford and Liverpool’s midfield exits…
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