LONDON (Reuters) - West Ham United’s Declan Rice enhanced his soaring reputation with the goal that secured a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday — his first strike for the club.
The defensive midfielder, who only turns 20 on Sunday, has already earned comparisons with former West Ham and England great Bobby Moore, and produced a complete performance that had both his captain and manager raving at the London Stadium.
Rice, who came out of Chelsea’s academy, has yet to decide whether to play for Ireland or England at international level and after this performance can expect more calls from respective national team managers Mick McCarthy and Gareth Southgate.
Composed in front of West Ham’s defence, where he made some important interceptions, he also showed a threat at the other end, heading wide before planting a superb curling effort past Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno in the 48th minute.
His joy was unrestrained as he celebrated his first goal after more than 50 games for the east London club and the youngster could not stop grinning afterwards as Hammers skipper Mark Noble gave his assessment of Rice’s display to Sky Sports.
“I’m buzzing for this young man,” Noble, who formed a seamless midfield partnership with Rice, said.
“We have been on at him in training to score goals. His finish was fantastic and you could see the joy on his face.
“You could see the celebration, and not just the players, you could hear it from the fans as well, it’s been a special six months for Declan.
“He’s just signed a long-term contract and scored his first goal. I would be surprised if he sleeps tonight.”
Noble said he was not surprised at Rice’s development.
“Not really, I’m used to it, we have played together a lot,” he said. “He knows that I’m next to him if he needs me. But we can all see what a special talent he is. He keeps working hard, on the training field every day trying to improve.
“Young players around the country should look up to him.”
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini said he had been impressed with Rice’s progress since deciding that he was a midfielder rather than a defender.
“He is improving in every game,” he said. “We are seeing a complete player at 19 years of age.”
Rice’s performance lessened the impact of what looked as if it could be a last Hammers home appearance for Marko Arnautovic.
The Austria international’s brother and agent has said the striker wants to move to a club in China who have reportedly offered 35 million pounds ($44.97 million) for a player who joined West Ham from Stoke City in 2017.
The 29-year-old Arnautovic’s body language after he was substituted looked like that of a farewell with West Ham’s next home game coming after the transfer window closes.
“We will see what happens in the next days. It’s an issue that the club must see what is the best for him, the club, for everyone,” Pellegrini said.
“I hope that we take the best decision for everyone. I think we must be very calm, there is nothing 100 percent sure so we will see in the next days how that develops.”
West Ham said this week they expected Arnautovic, who has scored eight goals in 17 matches this season, to honour his contract which runs until 2022.
($1 = 0.7783 pounds)
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris