Declan Rice sat in the Arsenal directors’ box watching West Ham United’s Under-18s win the FA Youth Cup on Tuesday.
Familiarising himself with the surroundings for next season perhaps. For Arsenal’s sake you hope so.
Just 24 hours later the first team was battered by Manchester City and somewhere in the ugly ruins sent back to London were the tortured remains of the club’s title dreams.
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Should Pep Guardiola’s marauding stars now go on and win at Fulham this Sunday they will reclaim the summit of the Premier League with only six games left to play.
Such a turning point at a key moment in the exhausting campaign to become English champions could prove fatal for Arsenal, who are evidently running out of steam.
By the time Sunday comes they will have been top of the table for 248 days of the season. If they surrender now they will break Newcastle United’s unwanted record from 1996 of being top for 212 days and not winning the trophy.
Apart from one momentary blip when City took pole position on goal difference, Arsenal have been the frontrunners.
Crumbling may well have lasting effects like it has on other teams down the years, including the Geordies who are only just back to where they were 27 years ago.
Yet the savaging at City must serve as an early warning sign to Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta and club owner Stan Kroenke that now is the time to strike in the transfer market to stop the will-to-win being replaced by damaging shellshock.
And if they haven’t done it already, a deal for West Ham captain Rice is the key that will turn the door one way or the other.
Watching Kevin de Bruyne gallop through Arsenal’s midfield on Wednesday was a glaring advert for what is missing in Arteta’s armoury.
Many of those surging runs would have been stopped in their tracks by Rice’s outstretched boot, for he can tackle with the precision of a surgeon operating on a single hair.
He makes Thomas Partey look like a drunk in a disco grasping thin air in search of a last dance.
According to the Premier League, Rice has won more tackles and more importantly made more recoveries than Arsenal’s Ghanaian midfielder. In stark numerical terms, Partey has won more ‘duels’ and blocked more shots.
But the overriding measure of whether Rice would be an improvement on what Arsenal have already is who would you trust more in a big game?
For as well as number crunching every aspect of his game to the nth degree or processing his successful pass rate or how many shots he has blocked, Rice is a leader.
There is one captain in a team but to win titles and trophies you need many leaders. That is why Chelsea pulverised so much top class opposition en route to winning a trophy every year on average from 2003 to last year when owner Roman Abramovich sold up.
John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole. Four men who could wear the armband at any elite club.
Rice is ready to go now and at 24 is in his prime. He has been West Ham’s official skipper for only one season but has gradually eased into the role while Mark Noble was gradually stood down from service.
His appearance at the FA Youth Cup Final to cheer on West Ham’s Under-18s the night before a big game at home to Liverpool underlines his commitment to the club he serves.
The dancing in the dressing room with the triumphant teenagers after they beat Arsenal 5-1 confirms the lighter side of his character.
It is just what Arsenal need to make the difference next season.
The spine of Arteta’s team is at just the right age to spring forward from disappointment if they are pipped at the post this season.
Aaron Ramsdale, William Saliba, Bukayo Saka, players on the threshold of maturity who will grow up and learn from the heartache this season.
Throw Rice into the mix with Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ben White and Gabriel Jesus and there is almost a complete team with the ideal mix of youthful vigour, ambition and experience to go all the way next season.
If it costs £100 million or even £120 million it will be a price worth paying to stop Arsenal fading away after just one season back at the business end of the Premier League.