Kieran Tierney: His underwhelming form explained

Harry Symeou
Tierney is out of sorts
Tierney is out of sorts / Alex Pantling/GettyImages

He may be one of the frontrunners to take on the Arsenal captaincy on a full-time basis next term but Kieran Tierney's underwhelming performances at times this season have been cause for concern among supporters.

Since joining the club from Celtic in the summer of 2019, the Scotland international has had more than his fair share of injury problems, missing 38 games to date.

Fitness issues aside, there is no doubting his talent, exemplary attitude or application. The 24-year-old is as humble as they come and was famously pictured turning up at Bramall Lane back in 2020 carrying his stuff in a Tesco carrier bag.

You may be reading this and wondering why his choice of bags even made headlines but it's just one of a number of things that have shown him to be down to earth and relatable - contributing to his strong connection with the fans.

So now that we've established why he's so popular among the Gunners faithful, his teammates and the coaching staff, I guess we should try and make sense of why his form has suffered at times this season.

Given his history, the obvious place to start is with his fitness.

The frequency with which he bombs down the left-hand side and overlaps the winger has diminished significantly of late. Some would argue that's tactical and there is some credibility to that argument but there's also been a reluctance on Tierney's part to take the types of risks he wouldn't previously have thought twice about.

Is his lack of confidence in the final third born from a lack of trust in his ability or from fear of not being able to get back and leaving his teammates exposed? I'd argue it comes from the latter and so we return to the question of his fitness.

The Gunners' impressive attacking display at Watford on Sunday was very nearly undone by some sub-standard defending and focussing on the first half in particular, Tierney was as culpable as anybody else in red and white.

Add to that, Takehiro Tomiyasu's absence at right-back means the way Arsenal shape-shift in possession has had to be adjusted - again, impacting on Tierney's role.

Having made his name as a centre-back, the Japanese defender's presence gives Arteta's side the ability to form a back three when in possession, allowing Tierney to step forward into the midfield in the knowledge there is a stable structure behind him.

Cedric Soares' skill-set is totally different and so despite being on the opposite side of the pitch, his inclusion has an impact on the team's overall shape and subsequently the role Tierney is asked to perform.

It's fair to say the left-back's drop off in form can be attributed to a number of things including varying fitness levels, self-doubt in the attacking third and numerous tactical adjustments he's had to adapt to.

But despite not always having been at his brilliant best this season, his inclusion week in, week out highlights how important the player is in his boss' eyes. Having recently been promoted to vice-captain, there's a feeling within the fanbase he is being lined up as the club's next permanent skipper - a decision many would welcome.

Tierney in his current form is still a superb defender but given he can be even better - to accept his current level of performance, whatever the cause, would be a failure on Mikel Arteta's part to extract the maximum from a member of his leadership group.