The Zinckenko and Tierney dilemma – Arsenal’s Kolarov and Clichy?

The Kieran Tierney Dilemma


Over the past three seasons, since his arrival from Celtic, Tierney has, without any doubt, been one of Arsenal’s best and most consistent players. However, he has simultaneously been our most injury prone and the timing of his time out in the past 2 campaigns has been at the crucial stage of the season. It would be harsh to say that it was Tierney’s absence on its own that has cost the club Champion’s League football, but it certainly has been a major factor. Particularly, when combined with the club’s indecision on the Scot’s understudies or indeed, lack of confidence in them.

In 2020/21 Arteta used Maitland Niles, Cedric and ultimately Xhaka to cover for Tierney’s absence and last season it was Nuno Tavares or – again – Xhaka. Arteta’s mistrust of Tavares pushed him into moving the Swiss midfielder once more into an emergency left back role, and the resulting imbalance proved costly. Given the fragility of Tierney and how it has cost the club, it was highly unlikely that Arteta and Edu would allow the squad to enter 22/23 without the quality to cover the Scottish International, but the addition of Zinchenko seems to have provided so much more than left back cover.


Fabulous so far! (Image credit to Pricey Arsenal.)

The Ukrainian has started the season imperiously and offers the team very different attributes to those of Kiernan Tierney, who while now fit has so far been limited to off-the-bench cameos. Zinchenko is far from a conventional left back and has fitted seamlessly into the style of play that Arteta has envisaged. He will be a left back solely when the opposition are on the offensive and when Arsenal are in possession he is operating far more as a midfielder, interchanging position and play with Xkaka and left 8. The new signing has been a breath of fresh air and his technical ability is without doubt at a higher level than Tierney’s, so where does this leave the popular Scot?

Ironically, perhaps the answer can be found by looking to Zinchenko’s former employers, Manchester City. From 2011 to 2016, a period of enormous success that included 2 Premier League triumphs, with 2 different managers, City operated with 2 first choice left backs, sharing duties. Ex-Gunner Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov were both deployed by Mancini and then Pellegrini in equal measure without the team’s fortunes being impacted. In the 2011/12 Premier League triumph, concluding with Aguero’s infamous moment, the Frenchman featured in 28 league outings and the Serbian 12 in his first season. By 2013/14 when City again took the title, Clichy featured 20 times and Kolarov 30. The balance was similar over the Champion’s League with Clichy used in 4 matches and Kolarov in 7.


Both key to City’s success 2011-16

Later in his career, Clichy was considered by both City managers he played under to be the more rounded defensive fullback, with his early Arsenal left flank swashbuckling beyond him, whilst Kolarov offered more to his team offensively. Consequently, both Mancini and Pellegrini were able to select which left back to start based on the strengths and attributes of the opposition. The Frenchman, a more dependable one-on-one and positional defender more likely to be chosen for sterner tests and against teams with a strong right sided attack. Whilst the Serbian was more often picked against opposition who would defend deep and in numbers for his more adept and attacking offensive qualities.

Is this the likely pattern for Arsenal this campaign with Zinchenko and Tierney sharing the left back role, based on the style of play Arteta is looking to adopt and based on the strength of the opposition? Certainly, the Scot is the more natural defender, particularly as he plays regularly as a left centre back in a 3 for Scotland. This being the case, there is a strong argument for Tierney to start against the likes of City and Liverpool, with the threats of a Mahrez or Salah – and he may well feature when Arteta opts for a three at the back system where he might offer more than Gabriel.

However, it is hard to see him starting ahead of Zinchenko against lesser opposition with the Ukrainian adding more in the build-up and in ball retention. Of course, with Arsenal back in Europe and competing on 4 fronts again, the matches will be coming thick and fast so I hope both players will feature regularly enough. Add to this that we now have the 5-substitute rule which I suspect will be used efficiently and expertly by Arteta, and may well see Tierney adding his energy and pressing ability higher up the pitch later in games. As Wenger deployed Gibbs ahead of Monreal in the recent past.


Whatever happens, I am so glad we have 2 fabulous options for the 22/23 season, and I am excited to see how the situation evolves with our own Clichy and Kolarov.


This is the full, unedited version of my Fan Column for Sun Football yesterday.

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2 Responses to The Zinckenko and Tierney dilemma – Arsenal’s Kolarov and Clichy?

  1. Leo August 26, 2022 at 6:02 pm #

    Good article that accurately describes our current “dilemma”
    I agree with the view that different situations will dictate who starts and with European football on the calendar again there should be ample opportunity for both.

    • Dave Seager August 27, 2022 at 9:15 am #


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