Tierney: Beating Liverpool, adapting after injury, Arteta & Saliba praise

Last Sunday was massive. It was special and emotional, reflects Kieran Tierney, as we sit and talk a few days on from Arsenal’s 3-2 Premier League win against Liverpool.

Tierney was on the pitch at the end to soak up the victory as Mikel Arteta led the celebrations, and said: “The game was obviously talked about a lot in the build-up and to go and perform the way we did against that top team it was amazing. An exciting time because you could see the fans as well, how happy they were. So we were just feeding off that as well.”

On at the end, but not the beginning, as Arteta – without Oleksandr Zinchenko through injury – opted for Takehiro Tomiyasu over him at left-back.

“I was thinking, I got taken off on Thursday and maybe they are keeping me for the Sunday and maybe at the time that was his plan as well,” Tierney explained.

“Then the day before, he says ‘it’s not on your performance, this is just the tactical change that I want to make’. I’m gutted, but that’s all it is. I’m not going to be angry and not try hard.

“I want to play every opportunity that I can, especially in big games. You want to play, you want that atmosphere. There’s nothing I could say and then Tomiyasu plays amazing and the game plan worked and it just shows you, not many managers would probably think to switch the right back over here, but he did and it came off.”

A knee injury earlier this year left Arsenal short as they chased a Champions League place and Tierney’s fitness problems continued at the start of this season, missing pre-season before being fast-tracked against Crystal Palace to deputise for an injured Zinchenko.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Liverpool in the Premier League

He’s worked hard to get himself back, so the weekend’s decision was a surprise, saying: “I’ve genuinely never had that. That was the first meeting I’ve had like in my life where I’ve been dropped, so it is new to me still.

“Like this season has been new to me. There was a spell last season, three or four games I wasn’t playing, but since I started the season, I’ve not really played, so it is new to me.

“I’m learning, I’m dealing with it, but it is tough, football is what I want to play. I worked so hard to get back from injury so you want to play as much as you can as soon as you’re back. Unfortunately, I’ve not played too many but every time I get a chance to play, I’m so grateful. I work as hard as I possibly can for the team.”

Tierney has found his way to deal with the disappointment – a dog walk, a chat to the physios or the sports scientists have certainly helped as has having his best mate chef Jonny, who rose to fame in the recent Arsenal documentary so much so he now has his own place nearby.

What the defender believes will get him back to where he wants to be is his burning competitive nature.

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“I’ll just try and get my head down, work hard. I can’t change anything other than how I approach training, how I work. So I’m just trying as hard as I possibly trying to work my way back in.”

Fresh off a win – albeit not the most eye catching – in the Europa League against Bodo/Glimt, Arsenal head back from the Arctic Circle in Norway to Leeds on Sunday.

Last weekend was about proving as a group they had the resilience and mentality to take on one of the big boys. This week it is about showing they can back it up.

“That was a massive game, and we went to prove that we can do it against teams who have been at the top for years, with world-class players and it also kept us top of the league,” Tierney reflected.

“So now every game is massive in that respect as well. We want to stay in it as long as we can, so it was huge.

Kieran Tierney
Kieran Tierney sat down with Sky Sports News’ Gail Davis ahead of Sunday’s match against Leeds

“It’s a very tough league, we’ve seen that in the last few years. We never started well last year, but we climbed the table and that’s why we can’t get carried away because we know there’s still 30 games to go.

“It is just a really good start that we’ve had and this month up until the World Cup is crucial. I think if we can keep going all the way to the break and then some of us can get some rest we can come back from the World Cup and start over again.”

Even before the win over Liverpool, Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal were title contenders so is Tierney beginning to believe?

“He knows an awful lot about football, but it’s early doors, only nine games in. That’s the aim for everyone to finish up as high as possible and I’m sure every other team has got the same targets. We’ll just see, we won’t get carried away. I think that’s very important as well.”

What’s most important is the place is buzzing and the environment that’s been created by Arteta is a happy one. It’s taken time but sometimes it pays to be patient, says the defender.

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“A new manager and a new style of play is going to take time to get playing the way he wants. If it was easy just to go and do it in one game, everybody would. The detail he puts in, the effort that he and his staff put in it was always going to work, but it was going to take time. You could always see in the last couple of seasons it was working but now we’ve just done it more consistently.”

Performing week-in week-out is, as Tierney says, tough. The summer signings of Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko from Manchester City with the extraordinarily high standards programmed into them must have helped.

But the return of Wiliam Saliba to the club has bought a calm assurance at the back. Alongside Gabriel – Arteta has talked about analysing defenders in partnerships only – the pair have become something of a rock.

“I think Saliba’s done amazingly,” Tierney said. “I’m genuinely so happy because he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

“He probably found it tough when he came here first – he was really young and had to go alone a few times – and it just shows the character that he’s got. He can come back and just fit around the team like he’s been here for the last two or three years.

William Saliba has been one of Arsenal’s standout players so far this season

“So all credit goes to him because he is an amazing player, amazing guy and deserves every bit of good that comes to him.”

Tierney has played alongside a few impressive central defenders, including Virgil Van Dyke at Celtic, so how good is Saliba right now?

“I think those similarities are in a lot of players. Even when Ben [White] played there last season, I saw them. He was composed on the ball. He could carry it out from defence.

“Obviously Saliba’s got that as well. It’s just different stature and builds and it works so well. You see how well he’s been doing at right-back as well and it’s just amazing. It’s a great team to be part of now.”

How great? Off the back of a tricky trip to Norway and two mentally and physical draining victories against Tottenham and Liverpool, on Sunday against Leeds we may well find out a little more.

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