Thursday, April 25, 2024

Is a door opening for Kieran Tierney at Arsenal?

It’s been a quiet one since Saturday’s game, which doesn’t come as too much of a surprise following a pre-season defeat and with the players making the coast-to-coast trek across the US.

Arsenal have been without Oleksandr Zinchenko so far this pre-season, so we have seen Jakub Kiwior start at left-back against Nürnberg and MLS All-Stars, then Takehiro Tomiyasu there against Manchester United.

But Kieran Tierney, despite not starting a game yet, has played more minutes (120) than both of them and is the only player of the three to feature in all three matches. Maybe all of that means something, maybe it means nothing, but with the bulk of the incomings done for the summer, what happens to Tierney remains one of the most interesting transfer window questions still facing us.

Just a couple of years ago, the Scot was being touted as a potential Arsenal captain. The season before last — 2021/22 — he was still a guaranteed starter when fit, making 22 Premier League starts and zero appearances from the bench. That flipped significantly with the addition of Zinchenko, with Tierney still making 27 Premier League appearances last season but just six coming from the start.

That’s not a situation he’s likely to be best pleased with but, speaking on the US tour on Sunday, he showed no signs of dissatisfaction as he admitted his future is not really in his hands:

“It’s not really up to me (my future). I’m happy, I’m working hard every day and getting minutes. I’m just trying to do as well as I can.

“You can’t play every single game, every single season, every single year. I don’t expect that and I still made a lot of appearances last year.

“I was ready every game and working 100 per cent. I think everyone in there would agree with that, that I never give less than that whether I’m playing or not.

“In the games I did play I tried to do my best for the team. I came off the bench a lot last season, whether that was to see games out or help get a goal.”

There’s certainly no denying Tierney’s commitment and while he may not seem to fit into Mikel Arteta’s plans perfectly, last season was the first time he wasn’t a guaranteed starter at Arsenal. Things like that can change quickly.

As recently as May, the left-back delivered a superb performance from the bench in the win at Newcastle — a reminder that he remains an excellent traditional left-back, if not the ideal candidate to battle Zinchenko for a role that tucks inside and acts like an extra midfielder — and as we entered the summer he was widely expected to head to St. James’ Park. Nothing has materialised on that front just yet, nor has reported interest from Aston Villa, links to Celtic seem fanciful give the money involved, and if nothing happens in the next five weeks or so it’ll be time to start thinking about what Tierney can bring us on the pitch rather than in the coffers.

With Champions League football to play there will be plenty of minutes to go around and the addition of Jurrien Timber could help Tierney regain a spot in the Arsenal team. Timber, like Zinchenko, is technically superb and excels in moving the ball upfield through either passing or dribbling. With the Dutchman an option at right-back, the four-man backline could be flipped at times next season. That opens a door for Jakub Kiwior at left-back, as a sort of left-sided Ben White, but also for Tierney, who has successfully played as a left-sided centre-back for club and country (and notably under Arteta) in the past.

Tierney did also touch on the task of playing like Zinchenko at left-back, as he was asked to do at times last season:

“I’ve done it for the last year. I’m learning it.

“Alex is the prime example of how to do it so if you’re going to learn off anyone it would be Zinchenko. I’ve been learning off him and asking him questions but there are so many different ways of playing. The last few games I haven’t been doing that.

“Different people work different ways. I prefer to do it on the pitch. Video helps for sure and even when you’re on the bench you watch when he goes inside, when he comes out. It’s all learning as it was genuinely all new to me. I had never played in the centre of the park before. It wasn’t somewhere I ventured in very often before so it makes you a better player learning. It’s not for me. It’s for the team and giving them the best chance to win.”

“The last few games I haven’t been doing that.”

No, exactly. That’s the line that stuck out for me. If the job of an Arsenal left-back changes, or is at least different in some matches, Tierney could have a significant role to play for this team and this manager. We came into the summer and expected the defender to be sold. There’s every chance he still will be. Looking ahead to when Arsenal use Timber at right-back, the left-back role will change in turn, and it could change into something that fits Tierney and his attributes.

All that aside, we’ll see what (if anything) else pops up during the day as the game against Barcelona approaches.

And for anyone wondering after reading yesterday’s blog: I saw Oppenheimer — Barbie is pencilled in for later this week — and no, I got absolutely nowhere with my not Lego Highbury. Maybe today!

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