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Raheem Sterling to Arsenal: Could it actually happen? – Transfer Analysis

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It feels like it was almost yesterday that a 17-year-old Raheem Sterling was learning his trade at Liverpool, after coming off the bench and partnering Luis Suarez. He had a nervous first touch and wanted to do so many things once he got a hold of the ball. He seemed reckless at first, but Brendan Rodgers was determined to give the boy a chance, as he did with quite a few youngsters at the time. The Englishman paid off his manager’s faith in him, and in the following season (2013/14), he ripped apart most defences in the Premier League, alongside Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. He narrowly missed out on the league title that year.

Fast forward eight years, and Sterling has secured himself a big-money move to one of the richest clubs in the land, has won 3 Premier League titles and reached the final of the Champions League last season. Not to mention he has also scored 119 goals and provided 89 assists in 312 appearances for the Citizens and is also the 9th highest appearance maker in the history of the club. Thus, he has given a lot to them, and one might argue they have done the same. However, he is often shunned from the limelight. The English international looked to be off the paces at the end of last season and several people were animated when he was chosen in the UCL final against Chelsea.

But as he has done for the better part of his career, he let his work speak for himself. Two weeks after the European final, he was the main man for England at the Euros, justifying his selection in the starting line-up. His performances in the knockout stages were also vital to the nation reaching its first major final since 1966. That perhaps played no part in influencing Pep Guardiola to make him a part of his plans this season.

He has featured in all but one game for the men in blue this campaign, but his game-time has been restricted to off-the-bench cameos in the Premier League & Champions League and two full 90-minute games in the EFL Cup. He deserves a lot better since he has still managed to contribute to 8 goals in 1147 minutes of action. Perhaps there is no future for him at the Etihad, and it is clear why he is pushing for a move out of the club.

His contract is set to expire in the summer of 2023. If he does not wish to sign a contract extension anytime soon, the upcoming transfer windows are the only time Man City might actually be able to churn out some cash for him. Several parties are also interested in the winger, most of all, Arsenal.

It is interesting to see the Gunners going for a player like the 27-year-old. Their transfer strategy in the summer relied on signing young proven players at the brink of hitting their professional peak. They have profited from it, as they currently sit just a couple of points off the Top 4.

So what has piqued Arsenal about Raheem Sterling?

A) Premier League seasoned:

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Most of the players the Gunners went behind this season had little to no experience of playing in the top flight. Ben White had a bit of it after a couple of seasons with Brighton. Aaron Ramsdale, too, had a couple of campaigns with Sheffield United and Bournemouth. However, apart from that, it was a fairly inexperienced bunch.

The current group of players have played in England for a while but none of them have won the league title. Thus, there is a lack of a winning mentality and the desire to do what it takes to be the best team in the land. Raheem Sterling could bring just that. The Englishman secured a move away from Liverpool because he wanted to win the biggest titles in the country, and he wanted to do so year after year. He took the leap few would in his position, and it paid off as he is now a thoroughbred Premier League winning winger. Moreover, his versatility makes him a perfect option for the Gunners.

He is a threat on the right, thanks to his ability to find good spaces in the box and pace to get away from his marker. His technical quality is a boon on the left, as he can run rings around the opposition defence, before cutting in and shooting. Sterling has excelled in playing alongside the striker due to his hold-up play and running off the defender. And the great thing is that he has done all of this against some of the biggest teams in the continent.

Few have more Premier League appearances than the 27-year-old in the current Arsenal squad and his experience is going to pay off. The Gunners have the youth, and in Sterling, they will have somebody who is at his professional peak and still has 5-7 years in him.

It must also be noted that the winger played some of his best football under Pep Guardiola when Mikel Arteta was his assistant. The former Arsenal midfielder worked closely with the former Liverpool star at the Etihad and saw him play in an extremely cohesive team. One could also argue that the attacker has lost his special touch and charm since the Arsenal boss left Guardiola & co.

Arteta understands the way Sterling functions and he is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses. The pair apparently also share a good relationship and this might be important to the Man City ace, as he is not exactly Guardiola’s best friend right now. Regardless, the winger could live up to his potential again under the Arsenal boss and his near-decade worth of experience in the league benefits the Gunners in turn.

B) Has the statistics to back up his goodwill:

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Premier League experience aside, Sterling has the numbers to prove the kind of asset he could become under Arteta. He has not played a lot of football this season, but his statistics are right up there as compared to the best wingers in Europe’s Top 5 leagues.

His greatest quality this season has been the number of touches he has taken in the final third. This bodes well for the Gunners because they lack a player that continuously probes into the opposition penalty box and has a willingness to take people on. Sterling ranks in the 99th percentile of most touches in the final third, at an average of 9.11 touches per 90 minutes. To put this into perspective, none of the Arsenal attackers fall in the same bracket. 

To complement his work in the penalty box, the winger also ranks high (95th percentile) in receiving the most progressive passes. He often stands out wide or picks spaces in between the lines or on the edge of the six-yard box. His awareness and calculative mentality allow him to think of the next move as soon as he is on the ball. This is also partly why his pass completion rate is as high (85.1%) as it is. This could help Arsenal quite a bit. As seen in the game against Everton recently, they like to sit back after taking the lead, and the passing in the final third is chaotic rather than disciplined.

There is a lack of a desire to continue to gain possession and driving conservatively, but progressively. Sterling could give them an outlet to pass to, and his low centre of gravity also allows him to lure the opponent into a challenge and slick past quickly. His progressive carries are also in the 86th percentile, indicating his ability to carry the ball for long distances and not lose possession. The 27-year-old’s sudden burst of pace and ability to accelerate quickly is quite similar to Adama Traore, but the Englishman has the end product and excels in decision making, something he has certainly developed over a while under Guardiola.

Sterling does not have high defensive numbers and could improve on his shot-creating actions as well. However, once he gels into a system and plays consistently, he has a track record of being efficient and effective going forward. There has been too much reliance on the youth at the Emirates and the youngsters are bound to make mistakes. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe might not always make the right choices in the attacking half of the game but this proves costly to the team at times.

Placing the emphasis of creating goals on such a young duo is too much pressure on their shoulders, and the responsibilities need to be shifted in more experienced hands. Sterling certainly lives up to this billing as he could lead the attack from the front and play a ton of games over the course of the season. This shall allow the youngsters to play with more freedom and live up to their potential at the same time.

C) Solves the right-winger conundrum for Mikel Arteta:

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There are a few areas at Arsenal that need to be upgraded immediately. A young proven striker is certainly one of them, but as is a right-winger. The Gunners signed Nicolas Pepe on a club-record deal in 2019 but the Ivorian has been less than impressive. Arteta has not been a fan of him and his position has been changed on occasion. He is a threat on the right-hand side but has disastrous levels of inconsistency.

Last year, the Spanish boss brought in Willian from Chelsea. The Brazilian had been one of the more experienced men in former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard’s surge to the Top 4 in the previous season, as he showed innate levels of consistency throughout the campaign. He was expected to slot in seamlessly, and it looked like that was going to happen after he provided three assists in his debut game for the club. However, that was perhaps the last time he was ever productive in the famous red jersey.

The relationship between him and the club got to a level where he terminated his deal and went back to his home country. Several players have been tried out on the right this season, but none look all too comfortable. Saka does like to cut in and shoot but flourishes far more on the left as it allows him to go past people comfortably. Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard have also been tested in that role but both players tend to shift towards the centre or function behind the striker. Pepe, as mentioned before, has done very little to warrant a place in the starting line-up.

Thus, this could be one of the main reasons for targeting Sterling. The Englishman has the tactical understanding to play in that role and has proved to be a threat. His pace is one of the key factors here, while he also possesses the willingness to go past his men and cross the ball into a dangerous area or even take a shot on. He can cut in or even take the ball outside, but his area of strength is playing on the shoulder of the defender and constantly being on the run. 

Sterling enjoys when his side is in transition, and the defence leaves just enough space to run into. He exploits it well and is good at getting across the defender once he is on the ball to tempt a challenge. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang cannot run the channels like he used to before and needs passes to be played on a plate for him. He can drop deep and link-up play, and in such situations, the Englishman shall come in handy as he likes to win the second ball or even occupy the wide areas before converging his run into the penalty box. Harry Kane does this quite often with Sterling when the duo plays for the Three Lions, and it has been an effective partnership.

In the past decade, not many right-footed players have occupied this role but the 27-year-old has mastered it. Mikel Arteta needs an out-and-out right-winger in his team, and there are few better than the Man City star in the business.

DENOUEMENT

Arsenal are nearing a rebuild, and the transfer policy adopted in the summer was sound. But they cannot possibly penetrate the Top 4 until they sign some experienced professionals to take them to the next level. Raheem Sterling is somebody who can do that, and since he is more than willing to leave the Etihad, Arteta needs to convince him of the project at the Emirates. Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool are unlikely destinations for the winger, as they are already stacked for options and would not want to hurt the ecosystem by bringing in a starter like the English international. The Gunners are arguably the next club in line that can afford to pay his wages and accommodate him into their set-up. It is a transfer waiting to happen, and although it is a quite left-field move, it could be a season-changing deal for the player and the club. 

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