At 18, Kieran Tierney made his competitive senior debut for Celtic FC in the 2014/15 season. His talents truly came to the fore the following season where he displaced Emilio Izaguirre as the first choice left-fullback. With Celtic, he won four Scottish Premier League titles and three Young Player of the Year awards. The Scottish Premier League has always received criticism over the quality of football as compared to other nations in Europe but they have never failed to produce young and talented players. In 2019, he grabbed Unai Emery’s attention, and Arsenal signed him on the last day of the summer transfer window for £25m to improve Arsenal’s defensive woes.
Under Unai Emery, he made a promising start to his Arsenal career until he was out with a dislocated shoulder for 3-4 months. Arsenal has shown a lot of improvement since they appointed Mikel Arteta as the manager. After returning from his injury, the 23-year-old was slotted straight into the first XI by Arteta, appearing at different positions.
In this scout report, we will see a tactical analysis of the tactics under which he’s played at Arsenal. It will also provide you with an analysis of the qualities which makes him a great asset to this side.
Positioning & Statistics
The above heat map of Tierney shows that he is truly a two-way full-back, equally comfortable in attack and defence. Thus, we can see that he has very high stamina, which allows him to go up and down the field. He is very smart as he knows when to press and when to get back in the defensive shape. The Scot likes to show his opponents down the line and onto his stronger foot so he can use his speed to retreat and stop the opponent. This season, Tierney has played 24 matches in all competitions, coming on as a substitute in four of them. He averages 71 minutes per match and has got one goal and four assists to his name. Arsenal has lined up in different formations this season such as a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 and 4-4-2. Tierney can play at multiple positions on the field such as left-back, left wing-back and left-centre back. This season he has started 54% of the matches at left-back, 29% at left wing-back and the remaining 16% as a centre-back.
Towards the end of last season, Tierney played in several positions and did very well. Many people in England have recognised the Scot’s talent. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to those who have watched him play over the years for Celtic and the Scotland National Team. Despite struggling with injuries for most of the season, Tierney became a very important part of Arteta’s different tactical setups. He didn’t miss any of the matches after the restart and completed 90 mins in 9 out of the last 14 matches, which include wins over Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. His versatility, determination and commitment have won over the hearts of many Arsenal fans.
The above image is of Arsenal’s match vs Norwich city in which Tierney deployed as a left wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation. As a wing-back, he was given the freedom to provide width and stay on the touchline, overlap freely and send crosses into the box. Although it is one of the most physically demanding positions, Tierney is always aware of his positioning and knows when to get back and mark the opposition wingers. Tierney had a major influence in the opposition half. He completed 3 dribbles in the game and, also attempted 7 crosses and 6 passes into the penalty area. Defensively, he had a solid game. He won 3 aerial duels, made 1 interception and completed 7 recoveries in the opposition half.
Tierney started 4 matches last season as a centre-back. The above picture is of Arsenal’s game against Southampton. He started this match as a left centre-back in a 3-4-3 formation. Tierney has impressed everyone during the time he played as a centre-back. At this position, he is able to see the entire game in front of him so he likes to drive forward to provoke pressure and disrupt the defensive block of the opposition. Tierney can maximumly use his penetrative dribbling and passing range. Hence, he has been chosen as a centre-back several times for his national team. Tierney is very good at stopping counter-attacks, as he has excellent recovery pace, which shows his defensive instincts in such situations. In this match, he had a short passing accuracy of 84% and completed 5 long passes. While in possession of the ball, he completed 2 dribbles at a 100% success rate. Tierney won 4 defensive duels and made 2 interceptions in the match.
The above picture is of the match between Arsenal and Watford. In this match, he started as a left-back in a 4-2-3-1 formation. As a fullback, Tierney helps in transitioning from defence to attack. In comparison with other fullbacks, he gets forward more than most. His driving runs forward on the left flank leave defenders with only two options: close him down early or let him dribble past you. He consistently moves between the wing and half spaces. Tierney is a full-back who likes to play more forward passes whilst keeping up with the amount of back and sideways passes. He really gets caught up forward as he has the pace to get back and recover the ball. So, you can imagine how many positions he takes up during the game. While defending he made 6 interceptions and completed 8 recoveries in the opposition’s half. When he had possession of the ball, he had 2 shots on target out of which one of them was a goal.
Tierney is an attack minded full-back. He possesses a high level of bravery. Despite having played at different positions this season, he has been very impressive. Defensively, his pace and acceleration are great boons which make him capable of catching and shielding even the quickest wingers or strikers. Tierney dispossesses opponents cleanly by using his footwork and technical ability. Not only does he offer a strong defensive presence but also is particularly successful against right-footed right wingers attempting to cross from the byline. Let’s have a look at how Tierney uses his defensive instincts in different situations.
Tierney boasts a lunatic mentality and possesses the ability to smell danger. He can duel for possession both in the air and on the ground, even against powerful opponents. Though he stands five feet ten inches tall, which is less than the average height of a centre-back in the Premier League, Tierney uses his positional sense to make up for his lack of height. Over the past few years, playing at centre-back has sharpened his defensive instincts. As you can see here, Tierney steps back using his positional awareness to head the ball away and clears the danger. He’s won 38.1% of his aerial duels in his own third.
In the above picture, Adrian Mariappa plays a through ball in the path of the overlapping winger, Ismaila Sarr. Tierney shows him on to his preferred left foot and uses his pace to tackle the ball as soon as Sarr gets a touch on the ball. He averages 6.16 defensive duels per 90 with a success rate of 50% which shows that he is a clean defender.
As you can see here, Roberto Pereyra has possession of the ball. He sees Welbeck make a run in between Sead Kolasinac and Tierney. Tierney sees the danger and makes an interception. He comes in between the ball and Welbeck to win the ball back. He averages 4.04 interceptions per game which shows that his anticipation is a great asset and helps him in making interceptions.
In the above image, Todd Cantwell plays a through ball for Max Aarons who is making an under-lapping run and gets in between David Luiz and Kolasinac. Tierney sees the danger and gallops from Aarons’ blind side to cover for them. He gets in between the ball and Aarons. Tierney makes use of his body to shield the ball and lets it go out for a goal kick. He averages 3.55 recoveries per 90 in his own third which shows his high work rate all around the field.
Blistering Pace & Crossing
Tierney’s most influential traits are his blistering pace and crossing. He likes to take on opposition players on his flank, so his pace and direct running can be a nightmare for the opposition. With the use of his elegant and pinpoint crosses, he can pick out his teammates in the opposition box. The young Scot can cross from both higher and deeper regions from the left flank and do it with great effect. Most of the time, he looks for a player near the first post to tuck the ball into the net. Even though Tierney has played at multiple positions, he averages 4.08 crosses per 90.
As you can see here, Tierney is in a very advanced position for a wing-back. He takes on Aarons, which opens up space in the centre only for Reiss Nelson to get in. He plays an excellent low cross in the feet of Nelson, who shoots right on the body of an opposition defender. Tierney is a very composed player when advancing with the ball and possesses an excellent close control. This ability helps in attracting opposition defenders and opening spaces in the final third. He attempts 3.16 dribbles per 90 with a success rate of 50%.
As you can see here, there are four Arsenal attackers inside the opposition box. Tierney crosses into the box from deep, right onto the head of Nelson, who cannot capitalise on the opportunity given to him and misses the target. He possesses the technical ability to cross the ball towards a variety of targets and their runs when delivering the ball from a deeper position. Because of his balance and sense of timing, most of his deliveries remain similarly accurate, even when running at a speed. However, for him to truly fulfil his potential, his crossing must improve. He has a crossing accuracy of only 30.61% per 90. When he attempts to cross the ball into the opposition box, the speed of the delivery is often misjudged and the desired target is, therefore, less effective.
The image above shows Tierney’s blistering pace. He plays a one-two with Lacazette, only to go around Emi Buendia and then exploit the space behind him to cross into the opposition box. Tierney uses his blistering pace to get past Buendia. He likes to explosively advance beyond an opponent by dribbling past or playing the ball around them. Also, Tierney plays 8.41 progressive passes per 90 which shows that he is a progressive passer and likes to get into the danger areas whenever given the chance.
The above picture is of Arsenal’s match against Southampton. As you can see here, Michael Obafemi receives the ball and turns to his right side. Tierney presses from behind to put pressure and Obafemi dribbles past him. Tierney played the match as a left centre-back. He is naturally a left-footed player. Tierney likes to show the opposing player on to his left side to easily cope with the threat. It makes it easier for him to tackle the opponent and the danger of giving away fouls reduces. Left-footed or right- footed wingers will most likely be targeting Tierney’s less dominant side by cutting in-field.
Above, is another example of how opposing wingers can take advantage of his weaker side. In this match against Watford FC, Tierney played as left wing-back. As you can see here, Ismaila Sarr dribbles past him into space by cutting infield. Such situations can occur at any time and anywhere on the field. So, Tierney can work on his body positioning when he comes against wingers who like to cut in. Thus, it will become easy for him to use his recovery pace and tackle the player.
Tierney has missed 84 matches in 431 days since his 2016/17 season at Celtic. He was going to miss the rest of his first season at Arsenal but didn’t because of the pandemic. Apart from being an excellent all-round player, he is injury prone. He mostly plays as a full-back which is a physically demanding position. His past medical record could cause Arsenal big problems in the future. Tierney still needs to add a little more muscle to his frame to become a more impervious screener.
Tierney is a quintessential modern day full-back who is quick, light and full of tricks, but also offers a strong defensive presence. Tierney has the tactical awareness to effectively cover, support and protect the defenders playing next to him. If he can work on his weaknesses, his traits can better suit the approach and tactics Arteta prefers. He has got all the tools to make it to the very top and have a successful career. Having captained Celtic and the Scotland National team in the past, he comprehends the expectations and pressure on him. It’s safe to say that, from a handful of matches that Tierney has played in, he has been a steal deal for Arsenal and can certainly become one of the best left-backs in the Premier League.