Should Arsenal really consider signing Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling?
A look at Arsenal's current options in the same position and whether Sterling is worth the trouble
It’s safe to say that it’s not turned out to be a banner season for Raheem Sterling, and particularly so after an ill-advised interview he gave to the BBC back in March. Since then he has scored just a single goal (against a woeful Newcastle side), whilst photos of the youngster inhaling nitrous oxide also came to light.
On Monday, the news broke that Sterling had told Brendan Rodgers he was looking to move on from the Merseyside club. It’s unclear whether it’s money, the club’s failings this season, the potential for silverware or simply a move back to his hometown that have swayed his decision, but it's likely to be combination of the four.
Sterling and his agent have now given new meaning to ‘it’s complicated’ in terms of their relationship with Liverpool. The club have cancelled Friday’s meeting with the two as the agent in question said Sterling that would not be signing even if Liverpool offered ‘£700K, £800K or £900K per week.’
Although those figures are of course incredibly exaggerated the kind of numbers floating around have seen Manchester City become favourites with many for Sterling’s signature. However, Arsenal have been perpetually linked to Sterling since admitting they tried to sign him as early as 2010. Arsene Wenger has revealed that he regards Sterling as “one of the great players in England” and made discreet enquiries as to his availability as recently as March — just ahead of the now infamous BBC interview.
Ahead of Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Sunderland, Wenger was pressed on whether he would, in fact, be looking to sign Sterling over the summer. He tried not to be drawn into the discussion, telling the press that “[Arsenal] are not in transfer mode at all”, and that “the transfer period comes after the FA Cup Final”.
Nevertheless, he refused to deny that a bid would be made for the winger, insisting “you (the media) absolutely want me to say something that I don’t want to say. I don’t like to lie. If I say that I will and I don’t do it, then I have lied.”
For his efforts on the pitch, Raheem Sterling embodies what it is to be an 'Arsenal player'. He’s young and full of potential, technically gifted with pace and versatility. For that very reason, though, it would be frivolous for Wenger to spend the sort of money that Liverpool will ask for their want-away player. Arsenal currently have a multitude of players already on their books who can offer what Sterling could bring to the team.
One of the top assets to Sterling’s armoury is his ability to dribble past an opponent at pace. He has managed 103 successful dribbles in the Premier League this season, which is bettered by only three other players, including Alexis Sánchez (115). In fact, 3 of the top 10 most successful dribblers in the Premier League this season are at Arsenal, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (83), who made just 22 appearances.
Raheem Sterling has also been invaluable to Liverpool in terms of creating chances, even if their top goalscorer this season has scored just 8 goals. Sterling has made 75 key passes in the Premier League thus far which, although commendable, leaves him eighth in the league. Alexis Sánchez has bettered the Englishman once again, with 77 key passes, while Santi Cazorla has made 74.
Even with all their current creativity, Arsenal still have the luxury of Theo Walcott, who is just getting back to fitness after a major injury. The England international has been mooted as a makeweight in any deal to take Sterling to the Emirates but, although a tired trope, Walcott could be ‘like a new signing’ should he sort out his current contract conundrum, as showcased by his impressive cameo against Sunderland in midweek.
Arsenal undoubtedly need to look to strengthen in other areas, but that is a theory that seems to come around every season as far as the Gunners are concerned. Arsenal's only statistically calculated weaknesses is their defence of counter attacks, while they have conceded more goals from headers (34%) than any other team in the Premier League this season.
Wenger could do worse with the money at his disposal than looking for a centre-back that Szczesny’s father would not describe as having the ‘agility of a rhinoceros’, and perhaps a replacement for the Polish international himself. Meanwhile, despite the phenomenal job he’s done since being recalled from his loan spell at Charlton in the summer, Arsenal could use another committed midfielder to compete with Francis Coquelin than potentially up the impressive array of attacking talent among their ranks even more.
Before Sterling weighs up his options in terms of his immediate future on the pitch, he may want to consider having a more PR savvy adviser rather than one that leads him down a similar route to Saido Berahino or Peter Odemwingie. He could see a lot of competition for a place at Arsenal, while he could be a pawn in the homegrown quota game at Manchester City.
Instead, Sterling may be best served staying at a club that not only will guarantee him first team football, but could build the team around him.