Kieran Tierney – Arsenal’s Future Captain?
Despite a troubling couple of years for Arsenal, Kieran Tierney has provided a bright spark of positivity every time he steps out at The Emirates. Struan Garvie explores the Scottish left back’s impact on the team and why he’s perfectly suited to become the next Arsenal captain.
When thinking about the previous captains of Arsenal Football Club, we are reminded of legends such as Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, and Mikel Arteta – the current manager. I strongly believe that one day soon, Kieran Tierney will become the latest addition to this illustrious list.
There is no doubt that Arsenal are undergoing a difficult spell at the moment. The departure of Arsène Wenger was always going to be difficult for the club. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that Unai Emery’s time in charge of The Gunners will not be fondly remembered by the history books. The previously mentioned former captain, Arteta, was appointed as manager in December of 2019 following Emery’s departure (and a brief spell in charge from Freddie Ljungberg). What was clear was that Arteta had quite the job on his hands to try and save the club’s disastrous season. Arsenal eventually finished the 2019/20 season in 8th, but the club did beat rivals Chelsea to the FA Cup that season. Arsenal would then go on to beat Liverpool for the Community Shield, meaning Arteta had already obtained two trophies within his first 12 months in charge. Things were looking bright for Arsenal and there was a certain feel-good factor during the summer. However, the 2020/21 season has, so far, not lived up to the hype. Despite starting the season with a Community Shield, Arsenal currently sit 9th in the Premier League table and have already been knocked out of the FA Cup. There have been some bright sparks for Arsenal this season, however – none more so than the incredible form of left-back Kieran Tierney.
Tierney signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2019 for a reported £25 million from Celtic. To this day, it is still the largest amount ever paid for a Scottish footballer. Tierney’s Arsenal career did not get off to the best start however, as he arrived at the club following a double hernia operation in May that same year. This meant that Tierney did not play for Arsenal until September. His early form was good, and many fans began to grow fond of the Scot. Unfortunately, Tierney would later dislocate his shoulder against West Ham. This meant that Tierney would once again be facing a spell on the sidelines.
Despite it being unlikely that Tierney would see much more of the season, a blessing in disguise came as the Premier League was postponed. The three-month hiatus of football caused by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Tierney was not only able to return to full fitness for the remaining 11 games, but his lack of match sharpness was no concern, as everyone else in the league was in the same boat. He won the clubs’ Player of the Month award for June and also starred in the FA Cup semi-final and final victories against Manchester City and Chelsea. Tierney has also shown his versatility for Arsenal, playing both as a left back in a back four and also as a left centre back in a back five or three. Maldini-esque, some might say…
Although the 2020/21 season has not been the best for Arsenal as a whole, for Tierney, it has been a very strong campaign. Even when Arsenal have looked poor, Tierney has shown his class. Tierney was one of the standout players in the recent North London Derby that saw Arsenal pick up a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Tierney also played a huge role in Arsenal’s Europa League comeback against Benfica, in which he scored a crucial goal. This season, there have been a lot of top-performing left-backs in the Premier League, such as Tierney’s compatriot Andrew Robertson of Liverpool, Manchester United’s Luke Shaw, and also Everton’ Lucas Digne. There is an argument that Tierney has been better than all of them thus far.
When watching Tierney play, it is clear he is a passionate player and will always give 110% on the pitch. Throughout his time at Celtic, it was clear just how talented a player he is. Four league titles, two Scottish Cups, and three Scottish League Cups tells you just how successful Tierney’s time at his boyhood club was. Even when he was side-lined with injury, Tierney could be seen in the crowd cheering on his side. Tierney even captained Celtic on a few occasions in the absence of Scott Brown. To have leadership experience so young is an incredible asset for any footballer.
Back to Arsenal, the Scottish international has become un-droppable this season and has rarely delivered a sub-par performance. On the pitch, it is clear that he constantly communicates with his teammates. Having not been inside the Arsenal dressing room, I cannot say for sure what goes on or is said, but I would guess that there is a consistent presence of a very loud Scottish accent in there. Arsenal are currently blessed with a plethora of exciting young talents such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Emile Smith-Rowe – add to that an extremely promising young manager and the future certainly looks bright for The Gunners. With that though, the club will need to make sure that they have the right player in charge to lead the way.
The current captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, has been an excellent servant to the club in recent years and has been one of the stand-out performers in England. However, the Gabonese international will turn 32 later this year, meaning that many do not see him as the long-term captain of the club. When looking at the rest of the squad there is no obvious candidate to take over. Granit Xhaka briefly wore the armband but after some disputes with the fans, he lost the captaincy – I am sure Thierry Henry will be happy – and has had to earn his place back in the side under Arteta. In my eyes, the deserving candidate to replace Aubameyang as captain is Tierney. Although he has only been at the cub for a year and a half, he is already a fan favourite, meaning he would likely be welcomed as captain, should that day arrive.
Many who have watched Tierney for several years – including me – have seen just how good a player he is and how good he can become. Although a move to Arsenal may have seemed like too big of a step, Tierney has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. Playing at the highest level does not seem to faze Tierney – instead, it only makes him look better.
Although direct entry into next season’s UEFA Champions League from the Premier League looks very unlikely, but the club still have a huge chance to qualify through this season’s UEFA Europa League. It would mean so much to fans if Tierney was part of the Arsenal team who took them back to where they belong amongst Europe’s elite clubs. Tierney has won a trophy in every season of his senior career so far and it looks like it might just have to be the Europa League this season. Next season, he can win the armband.