Sir Alex Ferguson was among those to pay tribute to one of Mikel Arteta’s star men at Arsenal, but the Gunners boss appears to have turned his focus elsewhere with new additions
As Mikel Arteta continues to add to his ranks at Arsenal, players signed by his predecessors are finding themselves surplus to requirements.
Granit Xhaka’s summer exit sees the number of Arsene Wenger signings in the group drop further, while Nicolas Pepe – signed by Unai Emery for a then club-record fee – appears to have no future in north London.
Arsenal signed Kieran Tierney just a week after Pepe’s arrival from Lille, with the Scottish left-back arriving in a £25m move from Celtic. The defender has won plenty of plaudits, with former Scotland boss Sir Alex Ferguson echoing Arteta’s praise, but Tierney’s importance to his side is beginning to wane.
“It’s not really up to me,” Tierney said (via athletics), is addressing his future after featuring in Arsenal’s pre-season friendly defeat to Manchester United. “I’m happy, I’m working hard every day and getting minutes. I’m just trying to do as well as I can.”
The Scotland international admitted he has not held discussions with Arteta about his next move, although the Gunners’ transfer business looks set to limit his options. Oleksandr Zinchenko was first choice at Arsenal last season, limiting Tierney to just three league starts after the World Cup break.
January signing Jakub Kiwior is another option at left-back, although the Pole is most comfortable in the middle, while there is also an option for Takehiro Tomiyasu to switch over with summer arrival Jurrien Timber competing with Ben White on the right. And while Tierney acknowledged competition for places, it appears Arteta could be ready to move on without the 26-year-old.
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“You can’t play every single game, every single season, every single year,” Tierney continued. “I don’t expect that and I still made a lot of appearances last year. I was ready for every game and worked 100 percent. I think everyone in there would agree that I never give less than that, whether I play or not.
“In the games I played I tried to do my best for the team. I came off the bench a lot last season, whether it was to see games out or help get a goal.”
While Arteta still recognizes Tierney’s quality, things have changed since 2021. Back then, the defender was a regular starter when fit and Ferguson shared Arteta’s optimism.
“I think Scotland have some very good midfielders and I’m not sure how they will play against Robertson and Tierney in the same team,” he said. “I know there were some situations where they played Tierney as the third centre-back, but Tierney’s form since he has gone to Arsenal has been phenomenal.”
Arteta even hinted that Tierney could be a future Arsenal captain. At the time, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang wore the armband, but it ended up being Martin Odegaard – signed on a first loan in January 2021 – who ended up succeeding the striker.
“Since the moment I came to the club, I have seen a player of enormous talent with the perfect attitude and commitment,” Arteta said of Tierney. “He’s a joy to work with and I’m so happy for him for the way he scored. [against West Brom] and everything he has put in to get better every day against the team, against the club.
“He’s had some trouble adjusting. We tried to help him. It was a challenge for him to leave his house when we all tried to help him. He’s shy and so humble. He came here and it took him a while. He had a really bad injury and was away from home, but he’s a natural leader.
“You see how he behaves on the pitch and when he speaks, he says the right thing. And he’s exactly what we’re looking for and I’m so happy to have him on the team.”
It’s not even a case of Tierney’s form falling off. He has remained reliable and has even helped fill a left-back role that has changed under Arteta since Zinchenko’s arrival.
He still looks like a capable starter for a team in the mix for top-four football, as the Gunners were when he arrived, but the squad has risen over the last 12 months and the basic level is higher.
It’s now a question of whether Tierney can consistently hold his own at the new level, and if not, whether both player and club are content to use him as a rotation option and nothing more. Arteta’s willingness to continue adding to his back-line suggests he may have decided now is the time to move on.