LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 12: Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham Hotspur and Serge Aurier of Tottenham Hotspur … [+]
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Those familiar with Scottish soccer tried to tell Arsenal fans just what their club had signed last summer. They tried to point out that Kieran Tierney was ready-made for the Premier League PINC and comparable in many ways to another Scottish left back, Andy Robertson. They tried to tell Gooners that they would adore a figure who, from the moment he broke through, was a fans’ favourite.
It took a while for those at the Emirates Stadium to see it, though. Tierney’s first season as an Arsenal player has been fragmented and disrupted by injury, denying him the chance to build any momentum until the coronavirus pandemic struck when the three-month hiatus allowed him to find fitness. And subsequently, form.
Of all the players to have absorbed Mikel Arteta’s methods and ideas, nobody has seemingly soaked in as much as Tierney. The 23-year-old has improved with almost every game he has played. His work ethic has shone through both on and off the pitch, making the left back role in the Arsenal first team his own.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JUNE 25: (L-R) Arsenal substitutes Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil during the … [+]
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Tierney wears his heart on his sleeve, gives his all and is committed to getting better in whichever way he can. Contrast this to Mesut Ozil, the German playmaker who continues to be Arsenal’s highest-paid player on a reported £350,000-a-week despite appearing to have no part in Arteta’s plans for the future. He has yet to play a single minute since the restart of the season.
Of course, Arteta isn’t the first Arsenal manager to have publicly questioned Ozil’s attitude. Unai Emery did the same, omitting the German from his squad for several big games on this basis. The 31-year-old has become an extremely heavy weight around the club’s neck and there’s no suggestion yet of how they can unhook themselves.
Compare Ozil and Tierney and the difference between the Arsenal of old and Arteta’s ‘New Arsenal’ becomes clear. While the former was renowned for his technical ability on the ball, but not his physical and mental drive, the latter is a force of nature both in the way he plays and the way he carries himself.
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – FEBRUARY 08: Kieran Tierney of Arsenal with Mikel Arteta the Arsenal … [+]
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“He’s been one of the positive things since I joined,” said Arteta, heaping praise on the former Celtic left back who cost just £25 million last summer. “Just to get to know him a little bit and his character and the way he trains and the way he pushes himself, it’s exactly what we need. He’s the kind of player that I love and I am really, really happy with him. He’s had some really tough moments since he joined the club but now he’s much happier and he’s settled.”
Arteta needs more players, and more characters, like Tierney. Arsenal find themselves at a critical juncture in their recent history, with the Champions League, and the European elite, getting further and further away with almost every passing season. When Arsene Wenger left the club three years ago, the Gunners had only just finished outside the top four. Now, that would represent a positive season.
It’s not entirely clear how much money Arsenal will have to spend in the transfer market this summer, but the success of Tierney shows Arteta doesn’t need big names. He needs players willing to buy into the culture he is instilling at the Emirates Stadium and carry others along with them. Not so long ago Ozil was widely seen as the face of Arsenal. The player who best embodied what they were all about. Now, it’s Tierney who does that job for Arteta’s Gunners.