Kieran Tierney importance clear as Arsenal lack drive in Crystal Palace draw
The left-back was pulled out of the starting line-up hours before kick-off to undergo a scan and without him Arsenal laboured.
That is high praise for a left-back, but his absence reinforced how the drop off in quality in that position in the squad is perhaps greater than any other. Only in goal, where Alex Runarsson has deputised for Bernd Leno, could you argue there is a bigger gulf in class.
With no Tierney, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was given the chance to shine, but he failed to take the opportunity. He gave the ball away nine times in the opening 25 minutes and that number reached 13 by the time he was hooked shortly after the hour mark.
The 23-year-old deserves some slack given he has been shunted around so much at Arsenal – playing left-back, right-back, central midfield, wing-back or even as a winger – but his struggles last night typified the team’s display.
Tierney could have provided the drive and cutting edge that Arsenal lacked against a well-organised Crystal Palace. Indeed, no one has created more chances from open play for Arsenal in the Premier League this season than the left-back. It was not just Tierney’s output, but everything he brings with it that was missed last night. The 23-year-old is already a cult hero among fans, warming up in a T-shirt and shorts in the snow at West Brom this month.
That is all part of the charm with Tierney, who is very much the poster boy of Arteta’s revival. The Scot typifies everything Arteta wants from a player – determination, discipline and desire, and if he could field 11 Tierneys you suspect he would be a very happy man.
The Spaniard has already hailed him as a future captain, but now he may have to find a way to cope without him as Arsenal wait to learn the extent of his problem.
“We had four injuries this week and some players coming back – like Gabi [Magalhaes] was back after the Covid, Thomas [Partey] was back after a long injury as well,” Arteta said.
“It is going to happen. We have to adapt. It is really difficult in this league now to have a consistent XI.”
Last night, Arteta’s ultimate solution – once he had hooked Maitland-Niles – was to move Bukayo Saka to left-back and put Nicolas Pepe on the right wing.It seems strange using your best attacking player this season, Saka, at left-back, but needs must and he looks the most capable to replace Tierney.
That solution also gives Pepe another chance to prove his worth – and there are 72 million reasons why it is a good idea to keep preserving with him.
Either way, Arteta must be braced to find an answer to what could be one of the toughest tactical questions he has faced so far.
“Kieran’s progression over the past few months has been incredible and now it’s for another player to step in and do what he does,” he said.
That, as last night showed, is easier said than done.
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