To say that Kieran Tierney has had a tough year – mentally and physically – may be the biggest understatement of the year. In a recent interview with SPORTbible, Tierney discussed this being the “toughest time” of his life. He also revealed that during the game against West Ham, he actually dislocated his shoulder three times.
“Three times in ten minutes, nobody’s shoulder should be going like that. So in my head as I was lying down I was thinking, ‘That’s me out for another few months’”.
Three times, how is that possible!? If dislocating his shoulder three times in ten minutes isn’t a symbolic summary to help everyone understand his recent fitness struggles and run of bad luck in one moment – I don’t know how else to summarize it to you.
Making just 12 appearances in all competitions and only 5 in the Premier League has been a blow to him, a blow to Arsenal and fans, and has been a hit to the squad that has somehow lacked depth at the outside back positions, despite having 6 different people playing them regularly. That is not to say others haven’t stepped up in his absence.
We have been privileged to see the emergence and rise of Bakayo Saka, who took hold of that role and thrived in it, but a lot of the success has come on the offensive end, overlapping Aubameyang, with Xhaka sitting in deep to offer protection on the left side. While he has made great strides with the defensive side of the position, this suggests he could be a better asset for the Gunners moved up into the midfield where his natural spot is.
In his interview, Tierney said, “The night at West Ham was a hard one for me with a dislocated shoulder in the first ten minutes and straight away you know what you have done. And then another ten minutes later I done the same thing again but I landed differently.”
“Then it was a set piece and my arm just went into a position where it wasn’t comfortable at all and dislocated.
“Mentally it was probably the toughest time of my life. In my head I was thinking, ‘I need an operation now’. I knew.”
For a hardworking, down to earth Scotsman, it is clear there is nothing easy about this for him. After making the transfer from his boyhood, dream club Celtic, a year like this will have been far from the statement he hoped to make. Joining the Premier League as a way to show the world what he can do week in and week out in a league with a little more clout than the SPFL, is the level of aspiration Tierney has, but what happens once he is back?
Arsenal fans have only gotten tastes of what Tierney is capable of offering them as a regular starter in their eleven, spread out in little patches of promise. There is no doubt that Bakayo Saka is a future prospect and hopes are high that he can continue to his growth from the breakout year he has had. However, there is little doubt in my mind that Tierney is the future left back of this Arsenal squad.
The best glimpse Arsenal got was looking at his Europa League campaign where he made 4 starts for the Gunners and playing all 360 minutes. He managed 2 assists, 3 big chances created, 1.5 key passes, 77 touches per game, an interception, 1.8 tackles per game, 4.3 duels won per game, and Arsenal won 7 of 12 points from those games.
None of these games were under Mikel Arteta brought a bump in performance to almost everyone in the squad. While there is no way to guarantee that Tierney will see this same bump, there is plenty of reason to be excited to see him playing in Arteta’s system. With the success Arteta has already had in shoring up the defense, a player like Tierney offers Arteta another natural defender that has the ability to get himself up into the attack while still maintaining his defensive responsibilities.
Bringing this ability into the side, could help limit how defensively focused the midfield needs to be. It has long been known that Arteta would prefer to move Arsenal away from playing two defensive midfielders in the center, but that is hardly an option with how porous the backline has been. Even when Arteta placed Ceballos next to Xhaka and asked them to play a little more attacking, we saw West Ham have four golden opportunities to score goals that better teams will have no problem putting away.
Tierney’s crossing abilities suggest he will have no problem overlapping the left winger and delivering a nice ball for our forward to put away and his few would argue against him having superior defensive abilities over Arsenal’s other left back options. Hopefully this gives Arteta the ability to get Bakayo Saka involved in the midfield and dedicated to the attack down the left wing.
On a ‘softer’ side, Tierney offers a lot of natural fight to the side, something critics have held against the Gunners for some time. His willingness to throw himself into tackles and get into the face of opposition to defend himself or a teammate is enough to get any Arsenal fan’s internal pride pumping.
With football suspended, but Arsenal scheduled to return to training, Arteta will get another stretch of time to work with his inherited team and continue on instilling “Arteta ball”. It also provides time for Arsenal’s injured players to work themselves back to full fitness – Tierney included. I hope we will get to see a lot more of him playing healthy if the season resumes.