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Kieran Tierney

Arsenal, 2019–

Kieran Tierney became, alongside David Luiz, one of two significant signings Arsenal made on the last day of the summer transfer window when they paid Celtic £25m to recruit him in an attempt to strengthen what has long been an unsettled defence. The full-back, who for even longer has been considered one of Scotland’s finest prospects, made a promising start under Unai Emery until suffering a dislocated shoulder. Emery, meanwhile, has since been sacked.

Arsenal are regardless demonstrating signs of improvement under Mikel Arteta, who has so far shown faith in the club’s younger players, so there is little doubt that Tierney will again get a chance to justify the club’s investment.  “In the first week working with him, I could see after two or three days why there was a lot of clamour for him,” said Brendan Rodgers, who managed Tierney at Celtic, when the Scotland international joined Arsenal. “I’ve got no doubt he will do very, very well in his time.”

Tactical analysis
Tierney offers a strong defensive presence. He is capable of duelling for possession both in the air and on the ground, even against powerful opponents, and is particularly successful against left-footed right wingers attempting to cut inside with the ball. He also has the tactical awareness to cover effectively to support and protect the central defender and goalkeeper playing alongside him against crosses and switches of play.

The Scot is similarly capable when in possession. He is composed when advancing with the ball, and possesses the technical quality to cross the ball towards a variety of targets and their runs, whether doing so first time and low, following an overlap, or when playing the ball more delicately from a deeper position. Those deliveries remain similarly accurate when he is running at speed, often owing to his balance, vision and sense of timing, or when he needs to explosively advance beyond an opponent and play the ball around them.

For him to truly fulfil his potential, however, Tierney’s switches of play need to improve. For all of his accuracy when playing possession along the left wing (below), when he attempts to send it inside, the speed of delivery is often misjudged – even if it reaches its desired target – and is therefore less effective. The habit of him playing less accurate passes when under pressure has also persisted; the value of possession in the Premier League is greater than he would have experienced in Scotland, and the quality of opposition also means that it represents a greater risk to sacrifice it.

While his ability to be explosive during a short press is also a strength – particularly against switches of play towards his favoured left foot – he is more vulnerable after lengthier presses. Against opponents as fast as Raheem Sterling, Mo Salah and Marcus Rashford that vulnerability can also be used against him, regardless of the efficiency of his tackling.

Role at Arsenal
If Nacho Monreal’s return to Spain had left Tierney competing with Sead Kolasinac to be Arsenal’s senior left-back, the recent, impressive emergence of Bukayo Saka has given him further competition. Similarly to Emery, Arteta has largely favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in which Arsenal’s full-backs are encouraged to support the wide attacker in front of them.

From the positions he had become accustomed to adopting – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s presence in front of him meant he often remained deeper – Tierney was convincingly sending crosses into the penalty area, often towards the striker moving across goal or the right-sided wide forward. He was also getting caught out less regularly during moments of transition because of the reduced spaces behind him, and can benefit from Arteta’s preference for Granit Xhaka to drift towards left-back from the base of midfield to cover attempts to advance (below).

It is when the left-sided attacker drifts into a more central position, and has drawn the defending right-back, that Tierney has been invited to advance into more advanced territory, and often to cross to towards the near post or to play a cut-back towards a further teammate. He has also been seen isolating his opposing full-back, and driving at them with pace.

When Arsenal have built possession along the right, Tierney’s delayed advances can compensate for overhit passes or crosses towards the left, and capitalise on defences drawn to negate the first phase of the relevant attack. If he can improve his weaknesses – including how effective he proves when opponents double up on him while defending against him – his natural talent can be expected to suit the approach Arteta has so far preferred.

Kieran Tierney

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