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Friday, May 20, 2022
Home Sports SOCCER Left-back not left behind | Arblog ... An Arsenal blog

Left-back not left behind | Arblog … An Arsenal blog


Much has been written (by me more than most) about a new connection being formed between Arsenal fans and this revamped team. The late and early post-Wenger era has filtered many players through the revolving door at Colney in London, which will be just a footnote in Arsenal’s history.

I consider Arsenal’s current transfer to be similar to the one they underwent when George Graham arrived at the club. In the early 1980s, Arsenal gained big names in the prime of their careers such as Viv Anderson, Paul Mariner, Tony Woodcock and Charlie Nicholas. I was a little kid during this era, so these players did not know intimately, but according to what I picked up, not one was bad.

In fact, many of them have been good, but their respective Arsenal games are not considered the pinnacle of any of their careers. They were furniture when the team needed a total structural restoration. George Graham led many of them out the door (even the very popular Kenny Sansom was not spared the broom and he met and exceeded expectations when he was signed) in favor of younger, hungry players from the academy and the Football League.

Kieran Tierney was signed before Mikel Arteta’s appointment, one of the few transfers of the Raul Sanllehi era that does not make you draw an eyebrow north. Injuries meant that Tierney’s impact was delayed in any case until after Arteta’s appointment, so he feels a lot like an Arteta man- indeed he got a new contract under the current coach.

Once he started playing regularly, cult admiration quickly followed because of his indistinct personality on and off the field. (I wrote in July 2020 about his cult hero traits). There was also a retro appeal on his signing; the signing of a Celtic player dates back to a time when the Scottish league was much stronger and this type of transfer represented a major coup. It was in some ways a setback for Charlie Nicholas.

His short-sleeved, short back and side personality are complemented by his regular love of music by people like Gerry Cinnamon and Oasis. This week, Adidas released a promotional session featuring Tierney with the kind of casual wear one would see on the roadside or grab a can of cans on an Avanti West Coast service heading northwest. He is incredibly related to many fans, in short.

All of this is part of the charm that has made so many Arsenal fans insist that he be made captain. His game is easy to appreciate, he bombs up and down the sideline and he puts crosses in the area. You do not have to look very hard to see what he is doing and what he has been asked to do.

This season, however, the impression of his impact on the field has diminished, even though he does not have cult status. It’s always hard to measure the attacking impact of a fullback, even one as gun-ho as Tierney. Last season he received an average of 0.16 expected help per 90 and that is down to 0.08 per 90 this season.

That’s half the impact creatively, but we’re dealing with small numbers, two particularly productive matches across the width and that average can skyrocket. He tries to be slightly less passable compared to last season, even though his completion rate is stable (he has been in the 76% range so far in all three of his seasons at Arsenal).

His number of crosses per 90 is ever so slightly lower than last season (3.43 this season compared to 3.96 in 2020-’21). Where we see the biggest decline is “scooter-creating actions.” Last season he averaged 2.27 shots creating actions per 90 and this time it is down to 1.82 per 90. He is just as slightly less involved and just as slightly less creative.

So why is this? Well, I think it’s worth considering the context of Arsenal’s left. He could not form a consistent partnership with a colleague. Saka played there for a while last season before moving to the right. Aubameyang played there last season, but was beaten exclusively up front this season.

Arsenal moved formations during the fall and played in more of a 4411 form with Smith Rowe on the left. Of course, that was the time when Tierney briefly lost his place to Nuno Tavares for a series of four Premier League matches. The Portuguese was on a good run of form that the coach did not want to interrupt. It never felt like Tierney’s place was seriously threatened in the medium term.

Tavares was probably more suited to the 4411 system than he is the 4231 at this point. Arsenal moved back to a 4231 with Martinelli holding the festive season on the left and Tierney’s place has not been seriously threatened by Tavares since. I think it’s likely that Tierney made more crosses and more shot-creating actions last season when Auba was on the left.

While Martinelli is more wide forward than wing, he is still much happier and much more comfortable working in wide areas than Aubameyang was, who was happy to let Tierney have the left sideline for himself. In principle, I think the Tierney and Martinelli relationship has potential because Martinelli wants to move in and get into the area.

Martinelli’s first Premier League goal came from a setback by Sead Kolasinac. Kolasinac locked the wing as the attack developed and the Brazilian instinctively moved inward, waiting for delivery. His second Premier League goal against Sheffield United came from a cross from Bukayo Saka, who was playing left-back at the time.

There is precedent for Tierney Martinelli link. The Brazilian’s first goal for the club was a header from a Tierney cross against Standard Liege. The difference here is that Martinelli played as a center forward that night. I do not think the two have yet properly pinned down the choreography of attacking movements, but I do not see it as a terminal issue or one that I expect to continue for too long.

There is a feeling that Tierney now needs to add a few layers to his game (which I think he is quite capable of doing). He is, of course, a well-known amount to the opposition, but I think this series of relatively vomiting form has more to do with building a new relationship on the left.

Arsenal have also been without Granit Xhaka for a long time this season and this is Tierney’s main supply line. I think he can draw inspiration from Tavares and his ability to drive the ball inside; it’s pretty predictable that Tierney wants to run in straight lines and put in crosses. Greater finesse, the ability to combine with colleagues with wall passes, will add a few layers.

Last season, his delivery was also slightly more varied, with some precise cuts to add to his booming crosses. I think the loss of Aubameyang made that lane less accessible this season, Lacazette just did not fill the area quite the same way and that limited Tierney’s options when he gets the ball in cross areas.

Personally, I do not find any of this particularly worrying. He is in his third season at the club and on his so many left wing mates. However, I think there is a good chance that Martinelli is now in the team to stay and that relationship can be built quickly. Xhaka’s return should indicate a more steady supply. There are a few wrinkles for him and the coaching staff to work on as well, none of which are insurmountable.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto– or like my page on Facebook





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