Declan Rice is Arsenal’s ‘key man’ against Porto, says Gilberto Silva | Football

England midfielder Declan Rice has had a phenomenal debut campaign at Arsenal (Picture: Getty)

Arsenal ‘Invincible’ Gilberto Silva has picked out Declan Rice as Mikel Arteta’s ‘key man’ ahead of the side’s Champions League round of 16 clash with Porto.

Rice has enjoyed a phenomenal debut season after joining Arsenal from West Ham in a club-record £100million deal last summer, making 34 appearances with the Gunners pushing for domestic and European silverware.

The 25-year-old has also nailed down his place at the heart of England’s midfield alongside Real Madrid sensation Jude Bellingham and is expected to be among the first names on Gareth Southgate’s team sheet at this summer’s European Championships.

After a tricky winter period, Rice has ever-present across a resurgent five-game winning streak and looks set to continue his run in the side at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday night.

In a wide-ranging interview with O Jogo, Arsenal hero Gilberto said he was looking forward to seeing Rice link up with Thomas Partey again – with the Ghanian back in training and closing in on his first-team return.

‘The centre-back pairing is strong. Bukayo Saka is the star, although he looks a bit worn out to me. He and Gabriel Martinelli are very important up front,’ the ex-Arsenal midfielder told the Portuguese outlet on the eve of the last-16 first leg.

‘But I’d highlight Rice as the key man, he’s adapted very well. He’s a great leader and I’m looking forward to seeing him play with Partey.

‘I think they could complement each other, like me and [Patrick] Vieira.’

Arsenal legends Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva high five

Gilberto is reminded of his partnership with Vieira when he watches Rice and Partey (Picture: Getty)

Gilberto was full of praise for Fabio Vieira and is confident the midfielder has the ‘enormous ability’ necessary to succeed at Arsenal when he returns from his groin injury.

‘He’s a great player, but in terms of his style and the coach’s vision, he’s very close to Odegaard,’ the 2002 World Cup winner added.

‘You have good ideas and dynamics, but he has to recognise that and the quality he has.

‘I think he’ll be utilised more, he’s got enormous ability, he just needs to get loose.’

Mikel Arteta speaks with Arsenal players

The Gunners are preparing to return to Champions League action this week (Picture: Getty)

According to Gilberto, Arteta has helped steer Arsenal’s into a new era after a period of turbulence and uncertainty in the wake of Arsene Wenger’s departure.

‘It was difficult, they lived with Wenger for 22 years and when he left, there was already discontent,’ the Brazilian went on.

‘It was difficult to find a coach who would fit in with the philosophy, who would absorb it.

‘Unai Emery is a great coach, but he wasn’t happy at first.

‘It favoured Arteta to get to know the culture of the club better from the inside, knew how to adjust things faster.

‘It’s worked well, it’s brought the club back to the top after so many years out of the top four or even the top six.

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