Arsenal has finally commenced a much-needed clear out of the playing staff this month, but the departure of Sead Kolasinac to Schalke 04 has relegated star left-back, Kieran Tierney, as the only natural choice in that position.
As we recently saw in the dire 0-0 draw to Crystal Palace at home, the Gunners are heavily reliant on Kieran Tierney‘s mastery of the left-hand side. Without the Scotland international the team is far less dynamic and balanced at both ends of the pitch. Tierney will need to be rested and rotated throughout the remainder of the season in order to safeguard his long-term development, but with a dearth of options on hand, Mikel Arteta will certainly need to address that position.
The manager recently spoke about the club’s desire to find a viable option in the transfer market to replace Sead Kolasinac, but with the club currently limited financially and with other holes to plug in the squad, the potential of solving the left-back dilemma during this window becomes trickier.
Arsenal could opt for a change of formation to account for Kieran Tierney’s absence
That said, Saka has established himself as a crucial attacking option, and moving him back into defense would hamstring Arsenal going forward. Despite Saka’s incredible versatility there is no denying that he would be sorely missed in the front three.
As for Maitland-Niles, the recently internationally capped utility man looked well off the pace against Palace. For many fans, Maitland-Niles’ performance was a major red-flag that brought the need for reinforcements clearly into focus. Yet, we shouldn’t be so quick to write him off.
With the recent arrival of Mat Ryan from Brighton on loan and the rumored acquisition of Martin Ødegaard from Real Madrid, Arsenal is apparently very active in the market already.
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These deals may have taken precedence over signing a serviceable left-back who will happily sit behind Tierney, at least in this window. Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand has been touted as a possible target, but with the 31-year-old set to be a free agent in the summer, it may be easier to acquire the player’s services at the end of the season. Therefore the best possible option available to Arteta may well be reverting back to a 3-4-3 formation – only when Tierney needs a rest.
Playing with three center-backs is a system that Arsenal players know well, employing the formation en route to winning an FA Cup against stiff opposition. Also, the Gunners ironically have the fourth-best defensive record in the Premier League and a surplus of players still at the club at the center-back position.
Many fans have debated over the need to play Gabriel over Pablo Mari and vice versa. With a 3-4-3 Arteta could potentially play both players while pushing Maitland-Niles further up the pitch to operate as a left wing-back rather than a left-back. This a role that Ainsley has excelled at in the past.
Further forward, it is reasonable to envisage a plethora of viable attacking triumvirates. The trio of Emile Smith Rowe, Alexandre Lacazette, and Saka could continue to strengthen their chemistry with fluid movement and crisp one-touch passing. The manager could even elect to put forth an unorthodox – but intriguing – combination of Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Nicolas Pepe.
The latter trio’s mixture of pace and finishing ability would make for an effective attacking unit if it clicked, which is yet to be seen.
There is no scenario where Tierney plays every game from now until the end of the season so the manager must avoid running the 23-year-old into the ground at all costs. Ultimately, if a back-up left-back isn’t acquired by the end of the January window, it would be far more sensible to play a system wherein Maitland-Niles is deployed as at left-wing-back rather than left-back.