Arsenal sorely missed Kieran Tierney against Crystal Palace.
Playing the full 120 minutes against Newcastle and every minute of all bar two of the 18 Premier League matches this season, his absence on Thursday was actually welcome. Sort of.
He needs a rest at some point, a statement that while true can’t be applied when the Scot is so invaluable to anything positive in this Arsenal team.
Moving Sead Kolasinac on was a move lauded by all. Nowhere near the standard required, he’s wanted out of north London for a while and his performances have reflected that. However, if you’re only left with a plastic knife should your meat cleaver get damaged, you need another knife.
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Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been bestowed with the role of backup left-back. Being the utility man he is, there could be worse options. Nervy on the ball and indecisive off it, his start to the Palace game was less than inspiring. Despite being a right footer on that flank, he grew in confidence as the match wore on and performed his defensive duties in a more confident manner.
If on song he can aid with his off-the-ball runs, but in terms of balance and penetration the pair aren’t in the same stratosphere. Kieran Tierney is a driving force on the left flank. A one-man army in many ways.
It’s his space to dominate. A stretch of grass where he can nullify enemy threats and pin the opposition back in equally measured doses. Few full-backs are as complete as the 23-year-old, at least in this division: players who are strong one-on-one and threatening in the final third.
Tierney has perfected the art of the two-touch feint, a piece of skill that draws the covering defender in only to burst beyond them with a well-weighted flick on the touchline-facing foot. So many of his crosses and cut-backs come from this explosion of speed, a trait unable to be replicated by any right-footed stand-in.
On Thursday Maitland-Niles mustered such an opportunity only once or twice, both occasions with the final ball lacking. Someone who can continuously run outside on the flank stretches teams vertically and opens spaces on the edge of the box.
Without Tierney’s regular bombardments on this flank, all movements in that area were forced infield in rinse-and-repeat manner, allowing the staunch Palace to assume their superbly organised shape.
Furthermore, beyond balance, there are individuals who suffer without Tierney’s presence. Namely, Aubamayeng.