We are only two months into the start of the new season and already there is little evidence to suggest that Arsenal are improving and adapting as a side.
The attack, as we have seen for many years now, is a positive. In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gunners have one of Europe’s top strikers and with young talents like Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Gabrielle Martinelli coming though nicely, along with Alexandre Lacazette to return and record signing Nicholas Pepe bound to improve, goals should not be a problem a long while yet.
It is in defence, however, where Arsenal look suspect, yet again. Fragile displays against Watford, Liverpool and Aston Villa in the league suggest that no significant improvements from the Arsene Wenger reign have improved at the back. The club have conceded the join second-most goals (11) of any club in the top eight this season after letting in 51 last season. As a result, pressure may be mounting on manager Unai Emery, who has failed to win over the majority of the fan base, so far.
Kieran Tierney Can Improve Arsenal’s Defence and Attack
Fair and Unfair Criticisms
Certain criticism towards Emery may well be justified. While it is well-known that it takes time for managers to implement their style and ideas onto a side, the Spaniard has been at the helm for well over a year and there is little sign that Arsenal’s defence is finally taking a turn for the better. His decisions to appoint Granit Xhaka as club captain and cut Mesut Ozil from first-team involvement have also been controversial.
Yet, there is also an argument which suggests that Emery deserves more time, as three of his front line defenders return from long-term injuries. Hector Bellerin will give Arsenal some much needed energy at right-back and Rob Holding is expected to improve Arsenal’s central defensive problems, both with his reading of the game and his ability to play out from the back.
It is the introduction of new signing Kieran Tierney, however, which is providing the greatest room for optimism. After a long lay-off with a groin injury, the 22-year-old has finally returned to the pitch and is already wasting no time in showing what Arsenal have been missing at left-back.
Understandably, Arsenal are bringing Tierney in slowly to avoid a recurrence of previous injuries, which would explain why he has yet to feature in the Premier League. His two performances in the League Cup win over Nottingham Forest and the Europa League encounter with Standard Liege, however, have already given a clear indication of what he will bring to this Arsenal side.
Tierney boasts several qualities, but it is his crossing ability that has stood out so far. While current left-back Sead Kolasinac offers a real attacking threat down the left through finding himself in promising positions, he often frustrates with his final ball into the box. Tierney, however, earned a reputation during his time at Celtic as an excellent crosser and he produced a number of excellent deliveries against Standard Liege, none more so than his assist for the opening goal for Gabrielle Martinelli. Tierney also created three chances, more than anyone on the pitch.
“Whenever I played with Kieran he was always that outlet on the left-hand side who gave the team that natural width because he got forward so well,” Tierney’s former Celtic team-mate Kris Commons told Sky Sports. “At times, he was an out-and-out winger for us because we did get our width from the full-backs. He can get across the pitch at pace and in the final third he has good delivery.”
With two top-class strikers in Aubameyang and Lacazette in their ranks, Arsenal are looking for some creativity from the flanks and Tierney’s ability to whip in threatening balls at pace seems like an exciting proposition for Gunners fans.
Perhaps the area that will be most of interest, however, is in defence. Manager Emery has been playing with a 4-3-3 system for most of the season and, due to his preference to go and attack, Kolasinac looks unreliable in such a formation. Kieran Tierney is known to be a more natural left-back and has prospered in a four-at-the-back system throughout his short career, giving him a better experience of when to attack and when to hold back.
Emery’s refusal to play his sole defensive midfielder, Lucas Torreira, in his natural position has meant that Arsenal’s two inconsistent centre-backs, Sokratis and David Luiz, have often been left exposed. In addition, the attacking nature of Kolasinac and the absence of the dynamic Hector Bellerin has meant that Arsenal have been unable to build up a solid defensive four which remains compact and reliable.
It is no coincidence that Kieran Tierney has been named Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year more times than any other player in the award’s 42-year history. His intensity, defensive skill and excellent crossing ability means that Arsenal have a player who can solidify their left flank for many years to come. With Bellerin and Holding set to return too, maybe then it would be fair to judge if this side is really progressing under Unai Emery.