Declan Rice returns to West Ham this afternoon as Arsenal aim to maintain their Premier League title push with victory live on Sky Sports – but his presence at the London Stadium will shine a light on the form of opposite number Kalvin Phillips.
Rice has become a key figure at the heart of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal midfield since his £105m move across London, but at West Ham boss David Moyes is trying to find solutions to fill the void.
West Ham put the Rice money towards midfielders Edson Alvarez, James Ward-Prowse and Mohammed Kudus in the summer and that trio of signings have all impressed.
However, there is now focus on Rice’s England team-mate Phillips, who joined the Hammers on loan from Man City in January and could go up against his international colleague.
It has been a challenging start for Phillips, who has made mistakes which have led to goals in both of his two appearances so far. Moyes says the 28-year-old must rise to the challenge – but says he’ll give him the time and opportunity to do so.
“Kalvin has some work to do to…. I’m going to use the word ‘prove’ I think he’s got to prove,” Moyes said to Sky Sports. “Sometimes in football there are times where you have to stand up and be counted and say, ‘I have to roll my sleeves up and show what I can do’.
“It doesn’t always work well for you but you have to find a way to get through it. He’ll get through it. He needs time and to be given that chance to do so, I hope we’re able to give him that opportunity.”
Moyes says replacing Rice – a player he feels is still under-rated – will be an ongoing challenge for the club but believes the three summer signings have all contributed in their own way to West Ham’s season, in which they are seventh in the Premier League and into the knockout rounds of the Europa League.
“When we were losing him – and I don’t think many people believed me [when I said he was] probably the best player in England at the time – he was worth more than £100m and I still believe that. I think Declan is a top player,” said Moyes.
“The work he did for us was incredible, the recovery work, the defensive side, he protected us so much. He scored some winning goals, he took responsibility when it was require.
“For us to try to find a way of replacing that was always going to be difficult, so for us to still be challenging staying sixth or seventh, says a lot about the boys we brought in.
“Eddie has been great, still getting used to the Premier League. James Ward-Prowse has added assists, goals but more importantly a British mentality which we had to keep when we lost Declan. And the introduction of Mo has been the icing on the cake.
“We hope to keep building on it – but it’s never easy when you lose your best players to replace them though.”
Will West Ham do the treble over Arsenal?
Sunday will be Rice’s second return to the London Stadium to play West Ham, having been part of the Gunners squad which lost there in the Carabao Cup before Christmas. He was also involved in January, when Arsenal dominated the game at the Emirates but went down to a 2-0 defeat.
Moyes is dreaming of doing the treble over the north Londoners.
“If you had given me one of the wins I would have been happy. Two is fabulous. If we make it three it will be fantastic and we’ll aim to do that,” he said in his pre-match press conference.
“We’ve got them at home but we’re really aware of how good they are – an incredibly good side. They have been challenging to win the Premier League for the last two years. We’re going to have to play really well.”
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