Transfer Talk: Arsenal fears realised over Rice; Gunners hatch clever transfer plan after ’embarrassing’ offer

West Ham are excited about the prospect of a Declan Rice bidding war, but Arsenal are desperate to claw back their negotiating position by devising a plan.

West Ham are presumably enjoying themselves right now after the Declan Rice transfer situation ‘exploded’ on Thursday evening. What once seemed like a straight run for Arsenal has, as many supporters feared, become at least a two-horse race with possibly even as many as four contenders.

The Daily Telegraph tease offers from two more clubs after an Arsenal bid – described by one Sky Sports source as “embarrassing” – was knocked straight back by West Ham. That opening gambit fell short in terms of both valuation and payment schedule, the Gunners going too low at £80m, and not prompt enough for the two instalments the Hammers want paid by 2025.

Manchester City have since become a “strong option” to sign Rice, with Chelsea and Man Utd lurking. That has ‘delighted’ West Ham, who hope to extract the maximum possible fee for a player in demand. They feel Jude Bellingham’s move to Real Madrid, worth up to £115m, has set a ‘benchmark’.

As a potential sweetener, the Daily Mail suggest Arsenal could give West Ham ‘first refusal’ on any players they sell this summer. The chance to bagsy Nicolas Pepe will presumably tempt the Hammers into selling Rice immediately for a knockdown fee.

While Chelsea are mentioned in the Rice updates, it feels like little more than an obligation to bring them up when the prospect of a) an expensive transfer and b) a potential hijack is imminent.

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Far more likely is that they move for Moises Caicedo, with Arsenal officially dropping their January interest in the Brighton midfielder.

Chelsea are, according to The Times, both ‘in prime position’ and ‘competing with Man Utd’ for a player who won’t go for anything less than £80m this summer. With no Alexis Mac Allister-style clause, Brighton are in full control of the situation.

Caicedo has rejected overtures from Bayern Munich in favour of staying in the Premier League, with Chelsea trying to structure a deal. The Daily Mail claim some sort of part-exchange is being explored but they want to keep Levi Colwill, while Conor Gallagher’s wages could be too extravagant for the Seagulls.

Another option for Chelsea is Romeo Lavia, in whom they have held an interest since summer 2022. Southampton’s relegation could simplify matters on that front – although Spurs bidding £50m for both James Maddison and Harvey Barnes suggests it can also lead to plenty of p*ss being taken.

It could well take that fee to prise Lavia from the south coast, as The Sun claim Liverpool would rival the Blues for the Belgian midfielder.

Jurgen Klopp wants ‘an anchorman’ and Chelsea are after a partner for ‘the more attack-minded Enzo Fernandez’, adds an outlet which has presumably not seen much at all of the World Cup winner in England.

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