Kieran Tierney has long been one of the names heavily linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer. Most people already had his transfer to Newcastle penciled into the “Sales” column for the Gunners accounting. Arsenal reportedly want / need to augment their transfer budget with outgoing moves, and Tierney is one of the fringe players who’d fetch a meaningful return. Reports have the Gunners valuing him at £30M.
The dots aren’t difficult to connect. Tierney is firmly behind Oleksandr Zinchenko at left fullback but he’s more than good enough to play first choice minutes in the Premier League, as he has shown in previous seasons. Newcastle need a left back (because Dan Burn really isn’t one), and they have gobs of money to spend on transfers (see e.g. a rumored £65M for Sandro Tonali).
Recently, rumors have started to swirl that Kieran Tierney may not be on the move, that he could remain at the Emirates next season. Mikel Arteta himself supposedly sat down with the fullback to assure him of his place at the club. I don’t know whether I buy any of that given it’s coming from less-than-reputable sources, but the logic behind it makes sense, depending on what you believe Arteta’s tactical plans might be next season.
Some believe that Mikel Arteta is looking to shift to a back three, similar to how Pep Guardiola lined up down the stretch. They point to Arsenal’s pursuit of Jurrien Timber as evidence for that claim, although it’s equally as plausible that he’s being brought in as cover for both William Saliba and Ben White given his prodigious passing ability.
Sidenote: I can’t wait for the day where the football public decouples Arteta’s tactics from Guardiola’s. Just because Pep does something doesn’t necessarily mean Mikel wants to do it as well. Managers draw inspiration from and copy the best elements of tactics / formations from around the footballing world.
But if Arsenal are moving to three at the back, keeping Kieran Tierney in the fold makes sense. The left side of a back three is probably his best position. It’s where he plays and excels for Scotland. The shift could push Zinchenko into the midfield, which would take some of the defensive responsibilities off his plate. You’d likely see Ben White (or Timber) in the John Stones roll, with a back three of William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes, plus one. That third player could be Tierney on the left or Ben White on the right with Zinchenko alongside Partey / Rice at the base of the midfield.
Keeping Tierney at Arsenal gives Mikel Arteta options, which is important. Arsenal had a very good Plan A last season, but when guys went out with injury, the Plan B left a bit to be desired. The more first team starter level players you have the better able you are to weather fatigue, injuries, suspensions, what have you. And even when Plan A is mostly or fully available, sometimes changing things up and throwing a different, unexpected look at an opponent gives you an advantage.
For example: we’re several weeks into the Premier League season. The Gunners have been playing basically the same setup as in 2022-23. Then with no warning in one of those big early matches against Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, or even Manchester City, Mikel Arteta switches it up. He gives the other team a completely different look than the one they’d prepared for all week in training. Advantage: Arsenal.
It doesn’t even need to be a surprise tactical shift for it to benefit the Gunners, either. Some matches will lend themselves more to a 3-5-2 than a 4-3-3 (or whatever you want to call last season’s system). Changing formations also lets you rest players without shoehorning guys into roles they aren’t really suited for. Try as he might when he replaced him as a sub, Tierney was not well-suited for the Zinchenko role. If you want to give Zinny a rest, you’re better off playing three at the back.
Keeping Kieran Tierney at Arsenal gives Mikel Arteta more of that important flexibility. And he’s under contract through 2026, so Arsenal don’t have a pressing need to move him to avoid losing him for free. If they don’t get a satisfactory offer, they can hold onto him, use him as needed this season (because he’s still a capable player), and put him back in the shop window next summer.
And dipping into the wilder side of transfer rumor analysis, Tierney is currently front and center on the banner image of Arsenal’s twitter with Martin Ødegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu. So clearly, he (and Tomi) are staying at the club. They wouldn’t possibly put a player they’re going to sell in such a prominent position, right?
Never change, silly season.