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Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has already lost out on the title to Manchester City and the Spaniard would loathe to let top target Declan Rice slip from his grasp too, as Manchester United reportedly prepare their approach for the West Ham captain. In the worst-case scenario, however, Arteta has a backup option which would not only prove to be cheaper than Rice but also allow him to gain some revenge on his former club.

With Southampton relegated to the Championship, it is expected that Romeo Lavia could be the first of several key players sold at St Mary’s this summer. The highly-rated teenager has sparkled in the midfield for the Saints with 33 appearances, despite their first relegation to the second tier in 14 years, and has been heavily linked with Chelsea.

Lavia signed for just £12m from Man City last summer with the promise of a sell-on clause and buy-back option should City be interested in bringing him back to the Etihad Stadium. While that looks unlikely at this point, it remains an option for Pep Guardiola’s side.

But Arsenal can strike first and beat Chelsea to the punch as Lavia is one of three players being considered, particularly if they miss out on Rice, with conflicting reports about the Hammers captain’s future causing a stir in the transfer market. 

The 24-year-old is expected to depart this summer having so far refused to sign a new contract with West Ham, and as his current deal expires in 2024, they will not stand in his way. Of course, he is still rated as indispensable by David Moyes and will therefore attract a large fee, with Rice likely to fetch upwards of £70m this summer.

According to The Mirror, Rice prefers a move to Arsenal over United, and with Champions League football guaranteed at both clubs next season, it could be a question of money in deciding his fate. The Gunners believe they are in ‘pole position’ to land Rice if they can agree a deal with West Ham, although that could prove to be a tough negotiation given their £100m asking price. 

There are no such worries about Rice struggling at Arsenal, given he recently surpassed 200 appearances in the Premier League, and the risk of such a transfer is low. But having spent £300million on transfers over the past two summers, Arsenal must raise cash by offloading some of their fringe players. 

Valued at around £40m, Lavia would no doubt be a cheaper alternative if the bidding war spirals out of Arsenal’s control.

It is something that occurred when they were beaten to the signing of Mykhaylo Mudryk by Chelsea. And so far, withdrawing from the running has proved to be a blessing in disguise. But with Rice, there is a firm belief he is exactly what is needed to improve Arsenal’s midfield.

There is a risk that they could be priced out if United formally enter the running, as they are set to receive a huge injection of funds from their prospective new owners if a takeover goes through this summer.

Arteta has rarely failed to get his man when the going gets tough, securing Ben White, Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard after Edu Gaspar haggled on the transfer fees. Arsenal will need to pull out all of the stops to prevent Rice from heading to Old Trafford.

But if he does, Lavia would be superb alternative – and a perfect addition to plot their revenge on champions City next year.