Arsenal hopes boosted as West Ham believe they have ‘next Declan Rice’

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West Ham are confident fans could see the ‘next Declan Rice’ in their FA Youth Cup clash with Ipswich, in a message that could boost Arsenal’s hopes of securing the man himself. The Hammers have a prestigious academy but are in the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in two decades. 

First-team captain Rice has emerged as a top target for Premier League leaders Arsenal. The England midfielder came through the academy at West Ham after leaving Chelsea aged 14. 

West Ham U18s boss Kevin Keen has urged fans to attend the game as there are several ‘quality’ players with the potential to feature for the first team in years to come. The former Crystal Palace first-team coach believes supporters could spot the ‘next Rice’. 

“You’re always hopeful, especially at a club like West Ham, of doing well in competitions like this. The last few years we haven’t hit those heights, so it’s been a challenge for us,” Keen said. 

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“We’ve got a couple of really good young players and fans might be seeing the next Declan Rice or Mark Noble, and will be able to say ‘five years ago I saw that kid play in the FA Youth Cup away at Ipswich Town’.

“As long as our players give it a real go, play with pride and play the West Ham way, we’ll be okay.”

The comment will be music to the ears of those at Arsenal, who want to prise Rice from West Ham. if the East Londoners unearth their next academy starlet, they might be more willing to let the 24-year-old depart. 

Come the summer, Rice will have just a year remaining on his contract. He has so far opted not to sign an extension and is likely to explore his options come the end of the season. 

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Given the length of time remaining on his contract, Arsenal are reportedly confident they can acquire Rice for around £70million. The Gunners’ vast improvement under Mikel Arteta this season means they can attract a better profile of player than in previous transfer windows. 

Rice remains committed to West Ham until the end of the season. David Moyes’ side are embroiled in a relegation battle and dipped into the bottom three after Sunday’s 2-0 defeat by Tottenham. 

Despite his side’s struggles, Moyes is hopeful that any fee for Rice would smash the British-record £107m spent by Chelsea on Enzo Fernandez in January. He said: “Undoubtedly Declan is going to be a top player. He’ll be a British transfer record if he ever leaves West Ham.”

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