Arsenal sorely missed Kieran Tierney’s attacking qualities against Crystal Palace.
Well, that game was terrible. Spirits were high among Arsenal fans in preparation for Thursday night’s clash with Crystal Palace, with the Gunners searching for a fifth win in a row in all competitions that would put them firmly in the conversation for European places.
Instead, we were treated to a revival of our dismal November form as the team once again demonstrated their inability to break down a low-block.
The dour 0-0 draw marked the resurfacing of problems that have festered at the club for a long time, with slow, conservative passing stifling any momentum and decision-making in advanced areas leaving a lot to be desired.
In the end, we were probably fortunate to come away with a point and, as Mikel Arteta analyses what went wrong, the biggest issue on the night was painstakingly obvious: the absence of Kieran Tierney.
Tierney has been in sensational form for Arsenal over the winter period. The Scotsman has notched a goal and three assists in his last four games and he has created a club-high 20 chances from open play this league season. Therefore, news of his muscle injury would have come as a heavy blow for the manager, who admitted post-match that the dependable defender was only declared unfit to play earlier on matchday.
Despite the pre-match disappointment, the vacancy at left-back provided a fantastic opportunity for forgotten man Ainsley Maitland-Niles to stake his claim for a spot in the side. The England international impressed on a number of occasions last season, such as in the latter stages of the FA Cup, but failed to establish himself as a first-team regular and has been used sparingly this season, completing 90 minutes in the league on just four occasions.
Considering the substantial incentive to force his way into Arteta’s plans, Maitland-Niles was exceedingly poor in midweek, constantly giving the ball away, offering minimal threat going forward and struggling to link up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the wing.
Some will point out that the Hale End man is not a natural left-back – a position he looks set to remain in until Sead Kolasinac is replaced – and was bound to be rusty due to a lack of playing time lately, but he has thrived in defensive positions in the past, including away to Palace last season, albeit on the other side, while skills such as concentration and short passing are applicable regardless of the assigned role.
There is no doubt that Maitland-Niles will bounce back and showcase his undeniable talent in future outings, but the considerable threat Tierney poses on the left-hand side was sorely lacking on Thursday night and Arsenal will hope he makes a swift return before an important game with Newcastle on Monday.