Kieran Tierney is one of the frontrunners to take on the Arsenal captaincy on a full-time basis next term but Kieran Tierney’s underwhelming performances at times this season have been cause for concern among supporters. Should Arsenal fans be worried about Kieran Tierney’s form?
Tierney is already a fan favourite at Arsenal for his no-frills demeanour and his excellent spark of display since his deadline day transfer from Celtic for a fee of £25m.
He became an instant meme when he was spotted carrying his boots in a Tesco bag during his first season at the club, with Mikel Arteta commenting: “He’s the type of player I love. The Tesco bag is Kieran, he’s a very humble guy and does what he feels is right.”
Tierney’s performances were among the few saving graces for Arsenal last term and was a crucial piece in Arsenal’s build-up during the 2020 FA Cup run, where his long balls delivered down to channel for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to latch onto were instrumental to Arsenal scoring goals both in the semi-final and final against Manchester City and Chelsea.
However, There has been some growing concern over one individual, whose performances have differed from their usual standards in recent weeks. Kieran Tierney, for all his high standing in the Arsenal fanbase, has come under criticism.
The Gunners’ impressive attacking display at Watford on Sunday was very nearly undone with Mikel Arteta less than impressed with Arsenal’s organisation during their 3-2 win over Watford.
“We were really good going forward and we scored three magnificent goals, but we didn’t have the same energy and commitment defensively. And when that happens away from home, you are going to suffer and that’s why we suffered today.” Arteta said.
Tierney was as culpable as anybody else in red and white as the frequency with which he bombs down the left-hand side and overlaps the winger has diminished significantly of late and the left side has been vulnerable as of recent.
What has happened?
There has been some growing concern around the capital that his form as of late may be due to injury, and whether is the player injury prone or is there something else afoot?
The dynamic left-back has failed to get a consistent run of games under his belt since moving to north London, with persistent injury problems hampering his progress in the capital.
Since joining the club from Celtic in the summer of 2019, the Scotland international has had more than his fair share of injury problems, missing 38 games to date.
However, the reason for Tierney drop in form as of late isn’t about injury problem but a tweak in Arsenal Arteta tactics.
Takehiro Tomiyasu has been an integral part of the Arsenal squad this season following his £16m transfer from Bologna.
Having made his name as a centre-back, the Japanese defender’s presence gives Arteta’s side the ability to form a back three when in possession, allowing Tierney to step forward into the midfield in the knowledge there is a stable structure behind him.
But, the calf injury which has sidelined him for most of 2022 has led to Portuguese defender Cedric Soares taking up the right-back spot.
With Takehiro Tomiyasu’s absence at right-back, it means the way Arsenal shape-shift in possession has had to be adjusted – again, impacting on Tierney’s role
Cedric Soares’ skill-set is totally different and his limitation is glaring. He has been given the old Tierney role – approach the right hand side of the pitch, get the ball wide, control it, whip a high cross and is not being asked to cover inside as much.
So, his inclusion has an impact on the team’s overall shape and subsequently the role Tierney is asked to perform.
Like some evolutionary stage: Arsenal have evolved from (3-4-3) to (4-2-3-1) and now (4-3-3).
Within Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the roles that every individual is tasked to perform is well known, but over the past two months, a slight change has been observed due to the loss of key players like Tomiyasu and also Emile Smith which means Arteta had to finally play his long awaited formation.
Arteta has long-since championed the idea of playing that system, one that echoes his former mentor, and is the major brainchild in Thomas Partey’s signing.
But, Arsenal have struggled a lot which includes the FA Cup third round elimination against Nottingham Forest. With situation of things, Arteta had no option than to go back into the long awaited formation which has however been success as of late.
But, Xhaka and Tierney are therefore currently at a disadvantage of this formation with the former acting as one of two advanced midfielders whilst the latter is positioned deeper, alongside Partey and Ben White, creating the commonly referred to 4-3-3 formation.
Predominantly, final third activity under Arteta heavily involves Tierney operating high and wide, creating natural width, opening up space for the left winger to drift infield and delivering threatening crosses into the mixer, which makes perfect sense as his strongest assets lie in advanced areas but Tierney dropping deeper into the midfield line however does exploit his weaknesses, which revolve around his struggles in offering ball progression during the first and second phases of play.
And Xhaka occupying higher positions prevents the 29-year-old from utilising his biggest strengths, which involves quickening the transition from defence to attack by delivering line-breaking passes into forward areas.
Also, Gabriel Martinelli being a regular feature in this team has impacted that too, as of all the options on that side he likes to get chalk on his boots, which has seen Tierney operate more reserved.
His duties as a left-back are more balanced as Marinelli lacks the defensive positional awareness more than Bukayo Saka as the latter is diligent and understands the wide defending more than Martinelli maybe due to the fact that he starts his career as wing back.
Having recently been promoted to vice-captain, there’s a feeling within the fanbase he is being lined up as the club’s next permanent skipper – a decision many would welcome.Tactically his role has changed and as his crossing, cutbacks and overlaps now have to be even more precise on account of their limited output.
It’s more much of a midfield role for him now. In build-up Arsenal will often assume a shape akin to a 2-3-2-3, where Partey has either full-back beside him to provide a lateral pass option.Having spent so much of his Arsenal career getting in behind the opposition backline, this new role is taking time to adjust.
Despite the fact that Tierney hasn’t been at his fluent best, he has however remained solid– rarely ever getting dribbled past and always gives his best every time when called upon.
“I hope people see that, and realize that I’m giving 100 per cent for the badge every single time. Whether I’m playing well or not, I’m still giving 100 per cent and I think that the Arsenal fans love to see that.”
He’s still young, he’s still learning and will come good in future. Even, Partey has taken time to adapt to his No. 6 role, and the 24-year-old has earned patience from a fanbase who adore him unreservedly.