As an Arsenal fan it is a lovely position to be in, where you have two players that are superb in their role, vying to be the first choice. For a manager, in this case Mikel Arteta, it must be wonderful, and this is exactly what the Spaniard will face in the coming weeks, and potentially seasons, with Kieran Tierney and Nuno Tavares.
However, it is genuine dilemma now for Arteta, as Tierney, arguably Arsenal’s most consistent performer in 2020/21 is now fit and getting game time for Scotland and be available for the big test at Anfield. Nuno Tavares has not only deputised well for the Scot, but he has been a star performer in a team that is fashioning a winning run with the new formation. Indeed, Tierney had trained with the first team, after his most recent injury and was available for selection for the visit of Watford, yet only made the bench.
Being an old-fashioned fan, I am a firm believer in the old adage suggesting that you don’t change a winning team, but Tierney is a senior pro, in a young team lacking old heads. This is a debate the whole Arsenal fanbase will be having in the pubs, on the pods and on the socials. Not just what will Arteta do for the trip to face Liverpool, but beyond.
One possibility, in the short-term, and certainly when mindful of the rampant Liverpool attack, is to deploy both players in an altered 3421 formation. Playing Tierney, where he will have played for Scotland, at left centre back, with Tavares operating on the left of a four-man midfield, must be an attractive option. In this scenario, one of Aubameyang or Lacazette would sit it out, with Smith Rowe and Saka playing behind the sole striker.
I actually like this idea for the Liverpool match, and for other tough away fixtures, but I am sure along with most fans, would not want the current hybrid, 4231/442 system changed. Therefore, Arteta will need to either decide on whether to restore Tierney, thank Tavares and ask that he bides his time, as he is still very young, or stick with the young, exciting Portuguese left back.
There are many factors to consider when weighing up that decision and undoubtedly the most obvious argument will be, that if you are at a top club, there should be competition for places, and both will get their fair share of minutes. Whilst I accept that, Arsenal currently do not have European football, so have less matches in which to offer real rotation. Football, because of injuries, will always offer up opportunities to squad players and it is incumbent in them to grasp them. Smith-Rowe and Saka have taken theirs and who is to say that Tavares has not done the same. We Arsenal fans will all remember the unlikely situation in 2014/15 when injury to Arteta saw Cazorla drop in to centre midfield, to be shortly followed by injury Ramsey offering an unexpected opening to Francis Coquelin, who had been on loan at Charlton. Ramsey, on the back of his stellar 13/14 campaign could not break the partnership up on this return and ended up on the right wing.
Tierney, on the back of two fabulous seasons, sadly shares another attribute with Ramsey, which will be a telling consideration for Arteta. The Scot like, the Welsh midfielder, has an unenviable track record when it comes to injury. He missed much his first season with Arsenal due to a shoulder issue and missed 16 matches in 2020/21, with a mixture of groin and knee problems. Whilst he, along with Bukayo Saka were the team’s stand out players, it was ultimately Tierney’s long spell out on the run in that cost Arteta’s team European football. Obviously, it was the manager and board who failed to bring in left back cover and opted to play Xhaka there that were to blame, not the player, but it did highlight a serious issue to be addressed.
Nuno Tavares was brought in, for what now looks an absolute snip of a fee, to provide that quality cover for Tierney and he has done it so well. The question is, has he done it too well, from Tierney’s perspective at least. We have not seen Kieran in the new set up, as the tweak, with Lacazette, replacing Odegaard happened in his absence, but before his injury he had looked jaded. For too long the flying Scot had been Arsenal’s favourite route to attack, and other teams were getting wise to it. I am fairly sure Arteta will give Tierney a run in the new structure, but it is certainly not the formality that he comes straight back in, as it would have been previously.
If Arsenal can progress, we will have more matches, with the FA Cup in the New Year, and hopefully Europe in 22/23. Arteta should be able to keep both players relatively content if that is the case. It brings to mind Clichy and Kolarov at Man City between 2011 and 2014, with both players winning 2 Premier League titles as the ex-Gunner gradually passed on first team duties to the younger Serb. Now that would be a lovely scenario would it not?
This article is the unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Football Fan View column.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.
If I allowed to offer my thought, from club management interest, the best action will be:
1. Let them compete for the position. Every day, every week, training day, match day. Not only for Nuno and Tierney, but also across the field (Ramsdale vs Leno, White vs Holding, Lacazette vs Odegaard, Sambi vs AMN, etc). The best player SHOWING best metrics (fitness, crossing accuracy during match and practices, etc) plays matchday after each week decision. It will push them to their best. It will let future players know, there are no teacher’s pet here. If you perform, you play. Regardless of your age, national cap, races and experience.
Having two almost similar quality player for each position will be better for us. They will compete each other, and let the club in stronger position. One world-class player and one average-deputy will put the club weaker in term of control.
2. Let the talent scout, player’s statistician, academy coaches work their hardest to provide a new-young-potentials player every new season regardless what we had and contract duration. We, Arsenal, had suffered tremendously when players left us for their own satisfaction. Some situations were taken care very well (Martinez left for Ramsdale came in), some other left massive hole (Van Persie, Fabregas, etc).
Always be prepared with new fresh player on the table.
If the so-called ‘established player’ feel bigger than the club and ‘looking for trophy’ elsewhere, we already have other player competing for the spot week-in and week-out. If the second choice want gameplay elsewhere (hello, Martinez), we had our first choice firmly and our recruiter will provide us with a fresh competitor for first choice. Look how it works very well for our goalkeeper drama (I rarely heard Leno complaining now).