It dragged on a bit, didn’t it? A whole summer (and beyond) of speculation and hearsay saw Kieran Tierney’s protracted Arsenal move ebb and flow to the point where it seemed as if the Gunners’ insistence of undercutting Celtic’s valuation – by what one can, based on history, assume was pound each time – was never going to come to fruition.
For all their bartering, the north London side eventually coughed up the £25m asking price, and in doing so, finally secured one of Europe’s most highly thought of left-backs.
At this point, both Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal were already at the club, meaning there was going to be an inevitable departure for one of the pre-existing crop. That eventually saw Monreal depart the Emirates, with the currently injured Tierney merely waiting in the wings to usurp the criminally inconsistent – rather bang average – Kolasinac.
A slow and steady integration into the side began to take place, with Europa League and Carabao Cup outings signalling the beginning of what was hoped to be a hugely successful season for Tierney.
Only 11 first team appearances into his Gunners career and the desperately unfortunate cloud of injury, that had cursed the Scot before he’d even made the move down south, befell him once more. A dislocated shoulder, an issue completely unattached to his previous setbacks, saw his season all but end.
As if being thrust into a side putting in abject performance week after week wasn’t grueling enough, he’d now have to watch his new teammates sink further without his intervention.
What was clear from his brief spell in the side, though, was an abundance of quality. It’s never easy to turn the tide of a sloping tidal-wave of tragedy, but his athleticism and outstanding crossing ability were there for all to see.
Fast forward from that December night at the London Stadium, and there is a player now fit and available who is about to offer his new manager much more than just added quality to his squad.
The bubbling rumours of a move for Layvin Kurzawa have refused to dip under the surface, as it’s become painstakingly clear that the once limited finances at the Emirates Stadium have now reached piggy-bank smashing levels of despair.
Yet, free agents are not free. Kolasinac is one of the highest earners at the club following his own free transfer, and you can expect any player at Paris Saint-Germain will be asking for a decent pay packet.
The Bosnian left-back isn’t great, but has improved slowly (very slowly) since Arteta took the reins, and as backup to the Scotsman, that leaves that area of the pitch pretty much sorted. Do you really need three left-sided full-backs in a squad? Unless they’ve got injury records on the Jack Wilshere scale, then no.
If such a cruel fate were to rear its head, then this season’s surprise package Bukayo Saka has shown he’s capable of filling in the role. For all his excellent work this term, there are still question marks over his defensive positioning, which is absolutely understandable, since he quite clearly is not a defender.
He is, in fact, a left winger. Which, once again, will be an area that is nicely stocked up after Tierney returns to the fore. As already seen, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has taken up that mantle under the Spaniard’s tutelage, finding the net with points-tally saving efficiency despite the noticeable fact of being played out of position.
With new-kid-on-the-block Saka able to now move further up field and into familiar territory, alongside fellow teenager Gabriel Martinelli, you’ve got two – if not three – forwards in that position. Even if Aubameyang playing on the left persists – which we’ve no reason to believe he won’t unless, well, he leaves – Martinelli has played the majority of his career down the middle and can also be utilised on the opposite flank.
These are areas that would likely have needed strengthening, hence the links to Ryan Fraser and Willian, but while transfer fee-less additions are the port of call this summer limiting the number of those signings with Tierney’s return will lessen the load on the already restricted purse strings.
The areas of improvement are clear as day at Arsenal: right-back cover, at least one central defender and a combative midfielder are a necessity, so leave the left hand side can be left well away.
Tierney’s influence on this Arsenal side has not yet been fully witnessed. Under the (mis)guidance of Unai Emery, his impact was lessened, but even without kicking a ball with Arteta in the dugout the praise his manager has already showered him with bodes well for the future.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him and giving him the opportunity to play,” Arteta told Ian Wright as part of the adidas #hometeam campaign. “His attitude, his commitment, his willingness, it’s incredible.”
“I think he’s going to bring something special to us. It [the injury] has been a shame, but it’s part of his development. During your career, you go through these moments.
“Okay, the level of pressure now is a little bit higher, you have to deal with it, you’re playing with a top club, top expectations, deal with it. You have everything to be successful here. You have the best possible attitude that I’ve known from a player, go and live your profession and enjoy it.”
Even in his brief cameos this season, the early signs are there that Arteta has a player in his squad ready-made for his footballing philosophy.
Ability-wise, Arsenal have craved additional quality at left-back for many a year. Monreal performed the role admirably, as did Gael Clichy before him (ignoring Andre Santos), but at a crucial point in the club’s history, knowing that there is a young, exciting, ambitious, hungry and simply talented player in that position will offer Arteta plenty of encouragement.
Tierney’s return will ease the burden of the (likely) mountain of issues Arteta is tackling at the moment – financially, in the recruitment department and with on-field matters. The 22-year-old re-entering the fray offers one of few notes of excitement for Gunners fans when football returns, and provides Arteta with a gratefully depleted to-do list.
For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!