It would be churlish to suggest Kieran Tierney was Arsenal’s man-of-the-match against Crystal Palace given he wasn’t even out there for the 0-0 draw but the left-back’s importance to Mikel Arteta was underlined in his absence here.
Tierney had helped set the tone for the Gunners’ post-Christmas revival which saw them end a run of seven winless Premier League games with three consecutive victories and an extra-time FA Cup success against Newcastle. The decision to play Tierney for the entire 120 minutes of that third-round tie when several other regulars were given at least part of the evening off was both an understandable desire to keep an in-form player in the team but also an unnecessary risk viewed in the context of what followed.
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– ESPN+ viewer’s guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more
Tierney was unavailable against Palace due to what the club initially stated was unspecified “muscle tightness”, code perhaps for cumulative fatigue given this was only the second Premier League game he hadn’t started all season. But it later emerged Tierney had been forced out of the game just a few hours before kick-off and will undergo an MRI scan on Friday to determine the extent of the problem.
“We’ll probably know more tomorrow after testing him, having the evolution of the injury, and how long he is going to be out for,” said Arteta.
“Certainly, it was a big disappointment to lose him. It is a challenge when you make the gameplan for the day and within a few hours just before the game, he has to pull out. Kieran’s progression in the last few months has been incredible and now it is for other players to step in.”
No Arsenal player has created more chances from open play this season than Tierney’s 20 and they desperately missed him here. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been tried as a left-back from time-to-time — most significantly perhaps in Unai Emery’s first game in charge against Manchester City in Aug. 2018 — and as a left wing-back when Arteta favoured a 3-4-3 formation during Project Restart but it is not a position he is naturally suited to. The 23-year-old struggled from the outset defensively and failed to provide even a vague approximation of Tierney’s attacking threat, registering just one cross in the 65 minutes before he was substituted.
Something similar could be said of Hector Bellerin on the opposite flank, who managed to work himself into more dangerous positions but frequently made the wrong decision, most memorably taking the ball off Alexandre Lacazette’s toe as he prepared to shoot from Bukayo Saka’s cross. Bellerin’s form has been underwhelming for some time now, and Cedric Soares must be wondering what he needs to do to get a run in this team. But the reliance on Tierney at left-back is more profound following the decision to allow Sead Kolasinac to rejoin Schalke on loan until the end of the season.
Read More:Tierney’s absence highlights how devoid Arsenal are of attacking creativity