Stewart Downing: Why Arsenal Might Actually Benefit from Signing Him

Willie Gannon@ Writer IDecember 17, 2012

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have been put on high alert after Stewart Downing was told by Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool that he can leave the Anfield club. 

The 28-year-old joined the Reds from Aston Villa in July 2011 for £20 million. In doing so he became Kenny Dalglish's third major signing of the summer behind Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. 

The summer transfer window of 2011 was hugely significant for Liverpool as a club. John W. Henry had gained control the previous October, and the summer window was his first real chance to show the world the new direction he wanted to take the Reds in. 

Make no mistake about it, Downing was a key piece in that initial strategy.

However, just 17 short months later and Downing has been told he has no future at the club.

Having stated their interest in Downing in 2011, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal may, according to the Daily Mail, be about to re-enter the race for the versatile player.

It is no secret that Downing is surplus to requirements at Liverpool under Rodgers.

Last season the ex-Villa player featured 46 times and was an integral part of Dalglish's plans. When the Scot was sacked, after finishing eighth and getting to two cup finals, Downing might as well have left with him. 

This term, under Rodgers, he has only featured six times in Liverpool’s 17 Premier League matches.

Significantly, Liverpool’s new manager only sees Downing as an out-and-out winger or as a fill-in at left-back when injuries or suspensions mean he must be played.

However, Downing as a player is so much more than that.

It is true that Rodgers' patented 4-2-3-1 formation may not suit Downing as a player out wide. He is a midfielder before a winger and therefore struggles to adapt to playing in the final third as a winger. His goals-to-games ratio backs this theory up when you realise he has only scored 40 goals from 385 career matches.

Crucially, though, Brendan Rodgers has underestimated Downing as a player.

During the opening part of his career there could be little doubt that Downing was little more than a left-sided wide man.

At Middlesbrough he was the epicentre of the team—albeit on the left.

He became famous for his powerful surging runs, his beautifully flighted crosses and his free kicks. With the team built around him he contributed 22 goals and 43 assists from 234 appearances for the Boro.

Such was his good form that Aston Villa and Martin O'Neill snapped him up for £12 million in 2009 as a replacement for Gareth Barry. Ironically, Barry had joined Manchester City after Liverpool had failed with five bids to land the player.

Under O'Neill and later Gérard Houllier, Downing was primarily used as a versatile central midfielder who provided the supply lines for the likes of Ashley Young on the left and James Milner on the right. From his central position he would then rotate with the two wide men to give Villa a solid base across midfield.

The following season Houllier took over from O'Neill and immediately moved away from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 formation. However, and most significantly, Downing retained his position in central midfield. But this time he was utilised as the most forward thinking of the trio that usually consisted of Stilian Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker and Downing.

From this advanced position he put in his best ever season as a professional with eight goals and nine assists from 44 games. He also won the clubs Player of the Season award.

Then he joined Liverpool when he should have gone to Arsenal.

Now that he is back on the market, it looks very likely that Arsene Wenger will sum up Downing before deciding upon a possible transfer.

Le Prof should realise that Downing is exactly the kind of player that the Gunners need at the moment. 

He is selfless and willingly sacrifices himself to the managers whims and will play absolutely anywhere he is needed. 

This current Arsenal side lack players of real versatility, and Downing could cure that in one fell swoop. 

His pass completion rate of 86.2 percent is the only useful statistic to be gleaned from this less than productive season, but that tallies with many of the Gunners' best passers.

He would immediately provide proper cover for Kieran Gibbs at left-back and Wenger would no longer have to rely on the walking disaster that is Andre Santos. Downing's availability would also have the knock-on bonus on Wenger not having to change his central partnership either.

At times, Wenger has been known to push his captain, Thomas Vermaelen, out to the left as cover. This move further destabilises the Belgian's delicate partnership in central defence with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

Downing would also bring immediate balance to the Gunners midfield. Should he be used on the left of a four- or five-man team he would give natural balance and width through his positional sense and superb work ethic.

If he is moved inside he also has the ability to be used in many different guises. 

He would be a perfect back up for Santi Cazorla or Mikel Arteta such is his versatility. He would also give Wenger the superb option of playing Downing, Arteta and Wilshere or Cazorla in a midfield triumvirate depending upon the situation.

As a player, Downing has naturally evolved from a flying winger to central midfielder. This is partly down to his slight loss of pace combined with his increase in physical size. But, it is mainly down to the fact that he is a footballer who thinks long and hard on how to improve and develop his game.

In that respect, he should have chosen Arsene Wenger instead of Kenny Dalglish as his new master in 2011.

He may get the chance again and if he does he will grasp it with both hands. 

All that remains is for Arsene Wenger to realise that Liverpool have a gem that do not want. At just £10 million, Downing could yet prove the difference between Arsenal finishing fourth or missing out on the Champions League for the first time since 1996.

You can find me or follow me on Twitter @WillieGannon


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