Kieran Tierney’s Injury is a Revelation into Arsenal’s Recruitment Planning.
Ever heard of the Butterfly Effect? Where a tiny, seemingly inconsequential thing like a butterfly’s wing flap may trigger a storm some 200 miles away?
The butterfly effect applies to soccer in many ways. A missed goalscoring chance in a single game can change the face of a tournament. An injury can precipitate both positive and negative consequences. A bad decision here can bring about devastating results in other, unexpected places. Which brings us all about to Kieran Tierney and the ways his absence affects so much more than just him.
It began with the decision to sign Nicolas Pepe, as well as the extension of Aubameyang’s contract. Pepe flops on the right side and Auba flops on the left side. This results in Martinelli and Saka having to play on the wings. Meanwhile, Arsenal signed Sead Kolasinac for free, paying him huge wages. Nacho Monreal was let go and Kieran Tierney was drafted in to take over from Kolasinac. On the right side, Hector Bellerin cracks an injury and Ainsley Maitland-Niles stepped up to cover.
In a series of baffling events, even though Ainsley Maitland-Niles had done admirably well filling in for Hector Bellerin, the Arsenal hierarchy went on to sign Cedric Soares, a thoroughly middling rightback almost out of contract for money and for four years. This gave Arsenal an illusion of solid depth at both right back and left-back, seeing as Saka could fill in on the left side.
But almost all of the “depth” are not players that can perform at a good level for Arsenal consistently. Even the first choice right-back had lost a lot of his good qualities on his return from injury. After seeing that Sead Kolasinac was not at the level required, Arsenal let him go for free with the illusion that Cedric and Saka can fill in behind Kieran Tierney.
However, Nicolas Pepe flopped and Saka has had to fill in at his spot. Because of this, Saka is no longer available to fill in for Tierney. To move him there is to let Pepe or Willian play. This leaves Cedric as the only fill-in for Kieran Tierney. However, the Portugese defender is a player more natural on the right side. His athletic and positional qualities remain anywhere but the left side takes away his ability to go forward. Arsenal have been suffering from a lack of penetration and creativity on either wing. Aubameyang who has no creativity plays on the left side. Kieran Tierney has been the only source of penetration on the left for a while now. With his injury, both Soares and Aubameyang have to play on the left. Making Arsenal completely dead on that side.
Saka has to play on the left but that means he doesn’t play on the right. To revive the left is to kill the right. A conundrum of balance for Arsenal.
This conundrum has many fathers. Pepe’s and Willian’s ineffectiveness on the right. Aubameyang’s lack of creativity and penetration on the left. Most of all, the odd signing of Cedric Soares which allowed Arsenal to let Ainsley Maitland-Niles to go on loan, instead of fighting Bellerin for his spot on the right. Now, in a window where a quality midfielder and a good backup goalkeeper was required, Arsenal should have also signed a backup for Kieran Tierney.
It is true that sometimes, you can’t sign every player you want. Liverpool had no good deputy for Robertson for a year and have little for Arnold now. But they were quite complete in other areas which allowed James Milner to effectively fill in these places without them feeling his impact in midfield areas. Sadio Mane is a creative fulcrum all on his own on the left. Mohammed Salah is a world-class threat all on his own on the right. Pepe and Aubameyang do not offer the same level of one-on-one quality, even though Arsenal spend world-class money on both. Now, Saka has to play in either of their spots but that takes away his deputising duties for Kieran Tierney for whom Arsenal have no good substitutes.
Failure in one area can be tolerable. There’s hope for it to be fixed. Failure in many areas is a motherload of a disaster waiting to happen. What makes the particular failure of signing no Tierney substitute more egregious is the fact that Tierney had shown signs of not being physically durable and Saka had had to deputise for him for months already. To cover for the mistake in the next window, Arsenal must either sign a good left-back or a good winger. Another winger would make Saka the backup leftback. Which made the Manor Solomon rumours sensible. A new leftback, young and good according to reports mean that Saka’s future has been ultimately decided to be at right wing…