Mikel Arteta has found Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney alternative and it’s not Granit Xhaka

Mikel Arteta has found Arsenal's Kieran Tierney alternative and it's not Granit Xhaka

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Arsenal’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool was detrimental for a number of reasons.
The Gunners arguably put on their worst performance of the season to “shock” Mikel Arteta and blow up all the momentum created by a thrilling 3-0 comeback against West Ham ahead of the international break.

Perhaps the most devastating blow of the whole night was the fact that Kieran Tierney was forced to leave with a knee injury that looks likely to rule him out for the rest of the season.

The Scotsman has been Arsenal’s premier creator of open play this season and, speaking after confirming the length of his layoff, Arteta admitted his absence would require some degree of adaptation in the way whose Gunners attack their opponents.

“We’re going to have to make some adjustments because his qualities are unique and we don’t have anyone with his qualities on the team unless we start moving a lot of pieces,” said the Spaniard.

“Without the time to train, it’s a little dangerous to do.

“But we’re going to have to find different ways to fill that gap and use other things that can be just as effective. “

Initially, Cedric was the man chosen to fill the void at left-back before Granit Xhaka deftly stepped into the victories over Sheffield United and Slavia Prague.

However, neither have been able to replicate the aggressive attacks Tierney performs so effectively in the final third, where he delivers such an always dangerous delivery.

The man who was yet was Nicolas Pepe.

The Ivorian has largely specialized on the right wing for Arsenal since his £ 72million transfer from Lille last season, but at times this season he has excelled on the left.

Assisting Alexandre Lacazette’s second and Gunners’ fourth against Slavia Prague on Thursday, it was interesting to note Pepe’s ability to drive to the left and whip a precise cross.

Nicolas Pepe (left) slams in the left wing to assist Alexandre Lacazette’s second goal (in the middle of the penalty area) against Slavia Prague in Arsenal’s 4-0 Europa League victory over the Czech champions .

Compare that to Tierney’s help for Lacazette’s second goal the last time Arsenal scored four against West Brom – and the similarities are obvious.

Likewise, Kieran Tierney (left) descends to the left to score a low cross for Alexandre Lacazette (six-yard box next to the goalkeeper) to score his second and fourth for Arsenal in their 4-0 win over West Brom in January.

The Scotsman picks up the ball on the left side before deliberately descending on the wing and pumping a low ball into the box to get the 29-year-old home.

Arteta is looking to set up his squad with a five on the front line when they are on offense in a similar way to what Pep Guardiola has done so effectively at Manchester City.

The goal is to make the pitch as big as possible and stretch the opposition defense to create gaps that other players can drift into and exploit.

To achieve this, however, a certain degree of breadth is required, which is normally where Tierney fits into the overlap of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli or whoever plays on the left wing for Arsenal that day.

Nicolas Pepe shone in the victory over Slavia Prague on Thursday night. (Image: Stuart MacFarlane / Arsenal FC via Getty Images).

In his absence however, and with Granit Xhaka unable to replicate the Scotsman’s ability to relentlessly pounce on the pitch, Pepe was asked to maintain that crucial width and Slavia – who before Thursday night had conceded just three goals to home in European competition. season – just could not cope.

Of course, what the Ivorian is proposing is different from Tierney’s unique threat on the left.

As a forward player, Pepe is much more prone to drifting into the half-spaces between the full-back and center-back. It was from there that he scored his goal on the night.

But by having a left foot playing on the left wing, Arteta seems to have found a way to stick to his fundamental attacking principles without the player who is arguably most important to them.

When Tierney was out for a period between January and February earlier this year, Pepe entered the squad and put in exceptional performances against Southampton and Wolves playing on the left wing.

Now that Arsenal’s first-choice left-back is out again, it looks like the Ivorian is ready to step in and deliver again when needed.

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