How Arsenal’s competitive left-backs will aid Kieran Tierney’s return under Mikel Arteta

Kieran Tierney may be edging closer to a return to full fitness but returning as Arsenal’s first choice left-back in March could be a tough ask.

Out since December 9 when he injured his shoulder in the 3-1 win over West Ham, the Scot has missed a lot of football. Joining the club with an injury in the summer, he wasn’t able to make his debut until September 24 and has only made 11 appearances as a result.

Despite this, Tierney has impressed when on the pitch for Arsenal. Willing to take players on and whip the ball into the box, he was a breath of fresh air on the ball and claiming two assists in his first three games only helped his cause. In defence, he was steady, did the basics well and was a good communicator at the back.

His enforced time out of the team opened the door for Sead Kolasinac, however. Although he too has had struggles this season, under Mikel Arteta the Bosnian was one of Arsenal’s best performers early in 2020.

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Starting with the New Years’ Day win over Manchester United, he was ready to take the initiative and attack Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. Despite making his first start since an ankle injury, he played at breakneck speed.

Bursting forward, his intent was reward eight minutes in when his cross was diverted into Nicolas Pepe’s path for the opener. Following this up by continuing to storm up the left flank and cause havoc for Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka as well as keeping them quiet, he trudged off the pitch exhausted after 68 minutes.

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The 26-year-old backed this up with another strong performance against Leeds United and excelled once more against Crystal Palace. With these three games coming within 11 days of each other, the impressive thing wasn’t just Kolasinac’s physical ability but his tactical awareness.

As Arteta looked to focus his attacks predominantly down the left wing Kolasinac had to get a grasp of what was needed from him extremely quickly. Impressively, he adjusted to the new patterns of play involving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ahead of him seamlessly. Both the timing and destinations of the pair’s runs worked to a tee and were the main way Arsenal looked to cut team open.

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The way Granit Xhaka positioned himself also had a great deal to do with the effectiveness of these moves. As the Swiss dropped in between Kolasinac and David Luiz (the left-sided centre-back), the Bosnian could push further forward knowing that he was being covered by Xhaka. This relationship was analysed in more detail after the win over Leeds.

Like Tierney, however, Kolasinac picked up an injury which gave a chance to Bukayo Saka at left-back – which he has taken.

Although his first games in the role were under Freddie Ljungberg in December, the 18-year-old has taken his performances to a different level under Arteta.