Let’s all learn from Scotland.
So, contrary to what pretty much anyone who’s ever met me before will say, I come from Scotland. This means that, unlike the vast majority of people who frequent this website (I imagine?), over the past few days I haven’t been watching the likes of Bukayo Saka get booed on England duty for displaying clear and obvious support for what is definitely, definitely, definitely a radically socialist agenda…
Instead, I’ve been watching England’s future conquerors at this year’s championships – and I’ve been doing it for fun, not as a scouting mission to see how Kieran Tierney gets on at LCB in a back three against Luxembourg. However, here I am writing on an Arsenal fan website about watching Scotland, so it’s likely that I did end up coming away from watching the game thinking, “Hey, though, Kieran Tierney at LCB in a back three against Luxembourg, am I right?”
And that’s because Tierney is great. We all know this. All Scotland fans know this too by the way. Andy Robertson may be the more senior and more decorated player in the Scotland squad, but it’s actually Tierney that gets fans excited and it’s also him through which more of the team’s play goes.
He played at LCB in a back three against both the Netherlands and Luxembourg this week, (as Dave suggested in his column recently.) Later in the second half of the Luxembourg game, Robertson was replaced with Ryan Fraser. Che Adams then moved wide-right so it became more of a 4-3-3 and Tierney moved into a more conventional left back position in a four. That’s the position he has found himself in for most of this season at Arsenal, as Arteta has usually adopted either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 with Tierney (when he wasn’t injured) at left back.
However, Tierney has certainly excelled at LCB in a three at Arsenal before and watching him do it over the past few days again has made me question why it’s something Arteta has become so averse to.
I imagine that quite a lot of Arsenal fans aren’t really going to look too much into Luxembourg 0-1 Scotland. After all, what can Mikel and the boys really learn from the way Steve Clarke, Steven Reid and big John Carver coach a side? The answer is “Maybe at least a bit, lads. We’ve finished 8th twice in a row now.”
The first time I remember seeing both Tierney and Robertson playing together on the left side of a back five for Scotland, it didn’t really work. They drew 1-1 with Israel, whom they’d already played around 15 times in the past two years. The main issue was that Robertson was simply gob smacked at the idea of having to receive the ball with his back to goal, which is something playing at LWB against Israel quite often entails.
However, Tierney and Robertson are now much more comfortable with it and the combination between the two is one of Scotland’s biggest assets. Tierney is great at making underlapping runs and taking players on one-on-one – you know that thing he does where he kicks the ball past a player and then runs faster than them to retrieve it? Yeh that thing. Meanwhile, Robertson can stay wider and cross from deep, which he’s brilliant at, whilst also not having to be TOO worried about what’s going on behind him, as Tierney is often there. They’ve found a way to make it work in a way that accentuates the best attributes of both players, despite neither playing in their favourite position. In this sense, Scotland have found a way to use their two best players in harmony with one another without them getting in each other’s way.
That’s what I think Arsenal can learn from here. Over the past year, two of the club’s shiniest glimmers of hope have been Tierney and Saka. This has been particularly noticeable when they play together down the left-hand side. So, is it totally absurd to suggest keeping three at the back with Tierney LCB and Saka LWB as an option?
Maybe I’m crazy and there’s no point in even suggesting this as Arteta is so clearly wedded to a four-man defence. Maybe I’m also crazy because playing three at the back reduces the number of players in midfield and this is Arsenal Football Club where we love small, sideways passing and fairly ineffectual midfielders.
I just think it’s a good option. So, shoot me. It’s the formation that won Arsenal the FA Cup last year, with Tierney playing in that exact role. It’s been successful in other big games both before and after then as well. It would also open up the truly ground-breaking option of Calum Chambers at RCB, which I think has potential to work, especially given how good a finish he had to this season.
As said, the most obvious response to this will be, “Yeh, Xavi, we don’t score any goals though so this ain’t likely to fix that.” However, the real issue with the lack of goals in my view is Arteta’s lack of trust in the attacking players to play a pass that he hadn’t previously discussed with them in training the day before. Maybe three at the back will allow players like Smith Rowe to play with a bit more freedom and less tentativeness.
Maybe I’ve said “Maybe” too much… who knows. The whole thing is a maybe. I just think it’s a good option.
Freelance journalist and Arsenal fan from Scotland living in London. Jose Antonio Reyes advocate. Inspirer of Arsenal hate art from an ex-girlfriend. Please read my things.