COMMENT: There’s been no strop. No transfer demand. It’s just been head down, tail up. If ever there was proof why Arsenal will dearly miss Kieran Tierney, it’s the fact that the Scot is still with the club…
Another player. Another personality. And he would already be gone. Another left-back, forced to play second-fiddle to Oleks Zinchenko, would’ve demanded he be sold in January. In doing so, Arsenal’s title push would be shaken. And his manager left with the dilemma: sell and spend time finding a replacement? Or keep and risk an unhappy player unsettling the dressing room?
Yet instead, despite his circumstances. Despite his frustration. Tierney has simply carried on. Mikel Arteta knows he’s frustrated. Messages have been exchanged between the Scot’s management team and Arsenal’s higher ups. But the manager also knows he can rely on Tierney. For the sake of the club. For this unexpected push for the Premier League title. There was no way Tierney was going to rock the boat. And that’s why Arteta must do what he can to convince his left-back to stick with Arsenal next season. Pound-for-pound, for his age and experience, Tierney is as good as any left-back in Europe. Indeed, this column would argue, if Tierney was the first-choice left-back at Tottenham or Chelsea, no-one would blink if it was claimed he was a superior talent to Zinchenko.
But the summer signing from Manchester City has made the position his. Zinchenko taking advantage of Tierney’s niggling injury problems to establish himself as a key member of Arsenal’s title tilt. With his big personality. His big match experience. Zinchenko is worthy of his first-choice status this season. There’s no doubt about that. But if all things were equal. If we were to start at zero. Tierney is getting chosen ahead of the Ukrainian every time.
Which is why Arteta needs to rethink his current stand. For the moment, word out of London Colney is that Arteta won’t stand in Tierney’s way should he seek a move this summer. Arteta understands the player’s concern. At 25 and entering his peak years, Tierney wants to be playing. A year ago, we were discussing him as a potential world class talent. One capable of joining the elite. And, of course, a future Arsenal captain.
Twelve months on and Tierney’s progress has stalled – though through no fault of his own. But his reputation remains intact. As we say, you’re talking about a rare talent. A player who could walk into any dressing room in Europe and improve their starting XI. And we’d include Barcelona and Real Madrid (both seeking long-term left-back options) in that category.
Newcastle. Atletico Madrid. Inter Milan. They’ve all been mentioned as suitors. This column also learning Manchester City are ready to compete for Tierney’s signature. A year after selling Zinchenko to Arsenal, Pep Guardiola fancies doing the opposite with Tierney. And again, we’d argue it would be City who’d finish out on top in this long-term exchange.
As a footballer, Guardiola rates Tierney highly. That Arteta has even employed him in that ‘interior’ fullback role this season, so favoured by Guardiola, is another attraction. But beyond the talent, it’s the personality that has City interested. The loyalty. The drive. Everything he’s been told about Tierney tells Guardiola he could be a Manchester City player. Despite the issues this season, he really is the total package.
So this is a test for Arteta. Another challenge in this still youthful management career. Can the Basque convince Tierney that he can still fulfill his potential as an Arsenal player? With a Champions League campaign locked in, there’ll be no shortage of playing opportunities. And like any manager at that level, Arteta will want as much top class depth and competition in every position next season.
But it will still get down to status and whether Tierney can be convinced that from the first day of preseason, he and Zinchenko will start with a clean slate. You can’t predict anything in this game, but there is every reason to believe Tierney will begin the new campaign as Arteta’s left-back of choice – if given the chance.
Or better yet, if he gives himself that chance. Arteta doesn’t play favourites. He doesn’t make his selection on reputation. It’s partly why Tierney is in the situation he’s currently in.
Crucially, Arteta also doesn’t hold any set opinion on his players. It’s all about performance, training and matchday. That’s it. If Tierney gets it right in preseason, he’ll start ahead of Zinchenko.
For all his talent. All that potential. That the Scot is behaving as he is, it’s proof enough why Arteta must use all his persuasive powers to convince Tierney to stay. Selling their No3 would not just leave them with Ashley Cole-like regret, but also a huge hole in the very fabric of this squad.
Arteta needs to think more carefully before acquiescing to this one.