Lack of Kieran Tierney So Telling for Arsenal

Arsenal, Kieran Tierney (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Kieran Tierney (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) /

The plastic bag warrior.

After pulling out of the starting lineup with a hip injury sustained in the warm-up, Kieran Tierney‘s loss for Arsenal against West Ham was arguably greater than any other member of the squad missing.

Yes, even Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Our captain and by far best player is a miss from any match, but for West Ham on Saturday, the lack of the Scotsman had more impact than if our talisman were not playing. Not because he’s a better player or what have you, but instead due to the painful lack of options to take his place.

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If the circumstances were different – the opposition and personnel available – Tierney’s absence wouldn’t have been quite as telling. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka can slot into the left wing-back role with consummate ease, but Arsenal are down to the bare bones in defence – hence why Tierney is playing at centre-back.

Plenty of people questioned why David Luiz didn’t come into the back three instead of Sead Kolasinac, but the game plan was set out from the start to allow Saka to drift into central areas with Tierney providing the width down the flank.

Neither Luiz nor Gabriel Magalhaes is going to play as a left-back, which is the system when in possession, so the Bosnian was chosen for his industry going forward.

He’s just not very good, though.

When Kolasinac is the only option after Tierney, it really runs home just how important he is to Mikel Arteta and the rest of the team. For this game, he was the first name on the team sheet.

His role in the side gets the best out of Aubameyang. When he makes the overlapping run along with the left wing-back underlapping, it opens the space for him to drive into the box where we’ve seen his lethal right foot come into action twice already this season.

Not only for what he offers the captain, but the rest of the side too, is why he’s absolutely imperative. Granit Xhaka in midfield and Gabriel in defence have more options on the ball with the 23-year-old. His runs are not only used as decoys to conjure up space for others, but also as outlets for the aforementioned duo to relieve pressure and push Arsenal up the pitch.

West Ham were always going to sit deep and counter with pace, so stretching their back five and carving open gaps would’ve fallen on Tierney’s shoulders as much as anyone else. When there is an opening to cross, there is nobody else you’d rather the opportunity fell to.

Spoiler: Kolasinac is quite far down that list.

Here we’re mentioning only attacking options, but his tactical awareness and solidity at the back are just as important. Kolasinac isn’t really good at anything. He can be good at certain elements. Sometimes. Maybe.

Tierney is your jack of all trades. Bursting with actual passion for defending while equally hungry to provide an offensive outlet, how he’s grown into the side and adopted the manager’s philosophy is a credit to his relentless work rate.

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Kolasinac isn’t always sub-par, but his performances have dipped considerably at the same rate that Tierney’s have improved. The Scot is a player who the rest of the team clearly love playing alongside, just as much as the supporters love watching him. Thankfully he only missed out as a precaution, eh?