For Arsenal fans, the days of Ashley Cole bombing up and down the wing are long gone. The tenacious English left-back was one of the many Arsène Wenger success stories and while the erstwhile full-back’s name may now be mud with the fanbase that once cheered his names from the terraces, it’s fair to say that Arsenal have simply not had a player like him since his controversial departure for Chelsea in 2006.
Since Cole made the switch from North London to South London, Arsenal have had a number of players fill Cole’s rather larger boots, such as Gaël Clichy, Armand Traoré, Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolašinac; while only Monreal and possibly Gibbs are the players Arsenal fans are likely to remember the most, it seems that Arsenal may have found a new heir to the throne of Ashley Cole in Kieran Tierney.
Kieran Tierney had been on the Arsenal recruitment team’s list of potential signings for a number of years before he joined the club. Impressed with his willingness to defend as well as attack, Arsenal knew that they would need to act fast if they were to sign the Scottish left-back.
It was as early as 2016 when Arsenal made their interest in Tierney known and had been tracking him for 18 months prior to their initial bid.
Arsenal had just come off the back of a disappointing campaign which saw them lose the title to Leicester City coupled with early exits in the League Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League, Arsène Wenger knew that Arsenal needed to spend big if they were to mount a title challenge next season. That summer proved to be an expensive one for Arsenal, with Granit Xhaka, Takuma Asano, Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Pérez all joining in a near £100m summer.
Wenger saw the defensive issues plaguing the squad at the time. Nacho Monreal had been reliable to a point, but his positional awareness and penchant for clumsy tackles in the box and Kieran Gibbs’ somewhat iffy injury record, meant that the Gunners’ boss began to look elsewhere.
That summer is perhaps not looked back on particularly fondly given how most of the aforementioned players worked out and given that Arsenal had also failed in bids for Álvaro Morata, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Jamie Vardy, so the news that Wenger was unsuccessful in his attempt to bring Tierney to Arsenal will do little to change their views on that summer window.
Nevertheless, though Tierney opted to remain in Glasgow with new boss Brendan Rodgers, Tierney was still very much in the club’s thinking moving forward.
However, it was not until the summer of 2019 that Arsenal finally made their move again. This again, was not the most straightforward deal Arsenal have ever done, with numerous bids for Tierney rejected by Celtic before Arsenal finally managed to capture his signature for a Scottish transfer record of £25m.
Tierney’s initial start to life in London was later than Arsenal fans might have hoped. Tierney joined Arsenal, having undergone a nasty double hernia operation a few months prior to joining the club, and made his debut in Arsenal’s League Cup rout of Nottingham Forest.
Tierney’s first season was a somewhat hit or miss affair in terms of apperances. Fit one week and then injured the next, it seemed as though Unai Emery, who was already struggling with left-back depth at the club in the wake of Nacho Monreal’s departure to Real Sociedad, was going to have to be patient with Tierney.
Unfortunately, as Arsenal’s form under Emery took a nosedive, Tierney’s impressive performances took a backseat as Emery’s tactics were still exploited week after week. Tierney himself took issue with some of Emery’s tactics, even telling the Spaniard to “calm down” during a disastrous game at home to Wolves, where Emery seemed to be talking the Scotsman through how to correctly tackle.
His season worsened further when he was injured away to West Ham United in Freddie Ljungberg’s antepenultimate game as Arsenal manager.
When Mikel Arteta was brought in, Arteta was quick to marvel at how impressive Tierney appeared in Arsenal’s mid-season training camp. Tierney was still injured at the time, but was still working extensively with Arteta and was impressed by Arteta’s tactical understanding and couldn’t wait to return to action.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Tierney soon found himself back in the team and featured regularly for the side, eventually taking part in Arsenal’s FA Cup victory over Chelsea.
However, it is this season that Arsenal fans have seen the real Kieran Tierney and just what he is capable of.
Though injury issues have still plagued his season, Tierney has become the focal point of the Arsenal defence and the arme secrète of the attack.
His performance in Arsenal’s 0-4 rout of West Bromwich Albion earlier in the season was perhaps the best example of what he could offer in attack, grabbing an assist for Alexandre Lacazette’s goal and opening the scoring himself with a superb cut inside, before firing an effort into the back of the net.
In Sunday’s North London Derby win over Tottenham, Tierney was again exemplary. Though José Mourinho’s somewhat bizarre tactic of leaving Matt Doherty totally unsupported didn’t help Tottenham on the day, Tierney was still an explosive force.
Tierney contended well with Gareth Bale, who barely had a sniff and was constantly supporting Emile Smith Rowe down the left-hand side. It came as no surprise to see him grab an assist for Mattin Ødegaard’s equaliser.
Today, Arsenal released footage of Tierney’s performance, mic’d up. Though some of the more…err…colourful language was likely kept out of the mix, the club still couldn’t resist a cheeky shot of Tierney screaming “Boys, we need to score! How many fucking chances?”
The video is an eyeopener for Arsenal fans, not least because the video gives a fascinating insight into the general conduct of a footballer on the pitch, but to see just what Tierney brings to the fold.
Tierney can be seen shouting to Gabriel Magalhães to move quicker, telling David Luiz to cover and instructing Emile Smith Rowe how to move going forward.
His conduct on the field would have you thinking that he had been playing North London Derbies for 20 years. His instructions to Smith Rowe were clear and concise and he chased every ball.
The issue for the remainder of the season is whether or not Arsenal can keep him fit. On his day, Tierney is one of, if not the best left-back in the Premier League. Though many will point to the resurgence of form from Luke Shaw or the enduring quality of performances from Andy Robertson over the past three years, there can be no doubt that Tierney is slowly but surely earning his reputation as one to keep an eye on.
With a very important summer approaching, it seems as though Mikel Arteta is looking to build a team for the future as well as the here and now and that Tierney clearly fits into those plans. Based on recent performances, it feels as though Tierney should be occupying the role of captain instead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though Aubameyang’s seniority and popularity in the squad is unlikely to result in his being dropped from the role, despite his disciplinary issues on Sunday.
Tierney’s performances have been impeccable this season and Arsenal will surely be looking to tie him down to a longer contract, however, no matter what the future holds for Kieran Tierney and Arsenal, £25m looks like a real steal.