Arsenal Transfer Rumours: Potential Ashley Cole Return a Step Down for Gunners

Nick AkermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 26: Ashley Cole of Chelsea on the ball during the FA Cup Fourth Round between Chelsea and Stoke City at Stamford Bridge on January 26, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Ashley Cole is not a player Arsenal fans want or need.

Rumours of the one-time Gunners hero making a return appear misplaced, despite Cole's proven world-class quality. As reported by James Orr of The Independent, the unwanted Chelsea left-back may be on Arsene Wenger's radar, although a move to the MLS could also be a possibility.

Cole's return is not an idea Wenger should entertain. Before we determine why, Orr's report summarises the player's 2006 departure from North London in one handy snippet:

Cole enjoyed a glorious spell at Arsenal, the team he joined as a schoolboy, and went on to win five major honours with the club before he left in 2006 over wage demands over a new contract, when he was offered £55,000 instead of his desired £60,000 per week.

He then moved to Chelsea for more money in a part exchange deal for William Gallas plus £5m.

The "Cashley" tag has stuck ever since Cole put pen to paper on his first Stamford Bridge deal. It is imprinted in the consciousness of Arsenal fans like the player's name on the back of his shirt. It isn't going anywhere, no matter what the 33-year-old offers on the pitch.

HULL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Ashley Cole of Chelsea tackles Ahmed Elmohamady of Hull City during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KC Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

As this season's statistics show, Cole's output no longer topples that of Kieran Gibbs, Wenger's first-choice left-back when fit:

Ashley Cole Comparison vs. Arsenal Left-Backs
NamePremier League Starts (Sub Apps)Avg. Tackles per GameInterceptionsClearancesBlocked Shots
Ashley Cole12 (1)2.51.21.70.2
Kieran Gibbs17 (3)2.51.94.20.2
Nacho Monreal7 (9)1.30.92.00.2
WhoScored.com

Particular attention must be paid to the comparison between Cole and Gibbs. The latter, who has struggled with injury problems this campaign, represents everything Wenger should crave from his squad.

The Englishman is pacey, confident on the ball, looks to break forward when possible and continues to steadily improve. He is reminiscent of a young Cole in a sense that he isn't the most physical, but he has defined attributes to make up for a lack of bulk.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Jakub Blaszczykowski of Borussia Dortmund and Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and  Borussia Dortmund at Emirates Stadium on October 22, 2013 in Londo
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Unlike Cole, Gibbs is heading toward the prime of his career at the age of 24, not rapidly falling from it.

Jose Mourinho utilises Cesar Azpilicueta as his primary left-back these days, a role that isn't natural for the Spaniard. Azpilicueta has performed admirably since receiving the nod and is part of a Chelsea side that is developing in ominous fashion under the Portuguese boss.

As we saw against Manchester City, the Blues' organisation and willingness to work hard is a potent weapon. Chelsea's full-backs hustled their opposite numbers at the Etihad by continuously patrolling up and down the flanks, limiting City's opportunities to launch counterattacks.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea poses for a photograph with fans during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on February 3, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Sha
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Branislav Ivanovic's match-winning goal stemmed from Mourinho's smart strategy. The Serb pushed on as Willian slotted into the centre, a style that was mimicked by Azpilicueta and Eden Hazard on the other side.

Mourinho didn't deem Cole reliable enough to do this in Chelsea's biggest game of the season so far. As Arsenal's continued improvement shows, they would also be foolish to settle for second best.

Cole's inability to regain his place is the start of a career plunge that could have long-lasting consequences.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on January 28, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Roy Hodgson is unlikely to start the former Crystal Palace loanee at this summer's World Cup in Brazil, especially if he remains on the bench. Leighton Baines continues to excel at Everton, offering stern defensive displays alongside attacking ability that is unmatched by any of the Three Lions' other full-backs.

Although vastly experienced and amongst the best left-backs in the world during his prime, Cole's effectiveness is being toppled by competition in both squads he plays for. Gibbs' stats and reputation at Arsenal suggest this would also be the case if Cole headed to the Emirates.

Arsenal's play has been crammed with exciting, free-flowing moves this year. Wenger's men are full of energy, look to pass the ball quickly and rarely shy away from working hard. Younger players are coming to the fore, such as Aaron Ramsey, Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, highlighting their potential for the not so distant future.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10:  Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal is challenged by Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 10, 2013 in Manchester, England.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Gibbs also falls into this category and slots into the Gunners setup far more naturally than Cole. This team was built with the likes of Gibbs in mind. It would be foolish to hamper development with creaking legs at the back.

As noted during Gibbs' interview with John Cross of the Mirror, he is ready to help Arsenal fulfil their ambitions ahead of their upcoming showdown with Liverpool.

"Going in as the underdogs takes the pressure off, but we are not looking at the odds of winning the Premier League. We just want to win the Premier League," said the player.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24:  Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal chases the ball with Cyrus Christie of Coventry City during the FA Cup with Budweiser Fourth round match between Arsenal and Coventry City at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2014 in London, England.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Despite Wenger's willingness to re-sign former players, the likes of Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann and Gilberto Silva all offered a sense of assurance that fans could get on board with. They remained favourites, their presence within the squad was almost as important as their ability, such is their stature.

Most importantly, they reminded Gunners fans of distant success, while aiding Wenger's quest to nurture the next bunch.

Cole doesn't tick any of these boxes. He doesn't offer a significant improvement over Arsenal's full-backs, he would halt the development of emerging talent and is a hate-figure amongst the fans.

His return would undoubtedly prove to be a backward step and an unneeded jaunt into the past. Arsenal have an exciting future ahead of them. There's no need to jeopardise that.