Kieran Tierney is facing a fight to be fully fit for this summer’s European Championships after being ruled out for at least a month, if not longer, with a knee injury.
Tierney, a key player for Arsenal and Scotland, limped out of Saturday’s match against Liverpool after sustaining ligament damage to his left knee. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said he did not know whether Tierney would be able to play again this season.
Tierney’s absence is likely to mean Cedric Soares fills in at left-back, although it could also result in Bukayo Saka returning to a more defensive position.
There is no hiding from the fact that Tierney’s knee injury is a significant blow for Arsenal and, potentially, for Scotland. Tierney has emerged as one of Arsenal’s most important players this season, often providing a defensive resilience and offensive edge that they have otherwise lacked.
In his absence, the likelihood is that Soares will take his place at left-back. Cedric is right-footed, though, and therefore offers none of the overlapping threat that Tierney provides on the flank.
Arsenal will therefore have to either change the way they attack or alter their system completely. A return to a back-three is a possibility, with Bukayo Saka playing as a left wing-back, or the teenager could even be moved back into a more defensive position.
There is no easy solution here. By moving Saka, Arsenal will reduce the attacking threat posed by arguably their most dynamic forward. By playing Cedric at left-back, they will lose the width that allows them to stretch opposition defences.
Arteta hinted that a change of shape is unlikely for the moment, primarily because there is so little time to work on a new formation in training. But he knows better than anyone that something has to change.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments because his qualities are unique and we don’t have anybody with his qualities within the squad unless we start to move a lot of pieces,” said Arteta.
“You have to find a different way of attacking. At the same time, the structure when you are defending and in transitional moments has to be stable and has to be done by players that are comfortable doing that.”
Of all the positions in their squad, left-back was perhaps the one area where they did not want to lose their main man. Tierney’s injury is a major problem for Arsenal, and their reaction to this setback could define the rest of their season.
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