According to David Ornstein, the calf problem that forced Oleksandr Zinchenko off during the Newcastle match is significant enough to rule him out for the rest of the season (a whopping three matches). He’ll join Saliba, who will end up missing 11 matches in total. If there’s any good news to soften the blow, it comes in two parts: for one, neither player will require surgery in the off-season. Two, one of our best players of recent seasons is more than ready to step up.
It’s yet another way of measuring the squad’s progress and development to see that two of our best performers—Bernd Leno and Kieran Tierney—were so quickly displaced from their starting roles. Leno of course ended up at Fulham, where he’s had a fine time of it as their #1 keeper. Tierney, however, has remained rooted to the bench, playing just 650 Prem minutes after playing almost 2,000 last season. I had written previously about how Tierney might have gotten a run-out at CB after Saliba went down and when worries around Holding grew. It’s the position he plays for Scotland, but maybe that issue is settled now that Kiwior impressed against Newcastle.
Zinchenko’s defensive shortcomings have been exposed, maybe even exploited, in recent weeks. For whatever Tierney lacks going forward, he’s one of our best defenders. Last season, he did show that he was not just willing but also quite capable of getting up the pitch to provide width in support of Martinelli. Maybe it’s worth looking at Tierney, not as less than Zinchenko but as different from Zinchenko. With the defensive stability he offers, Xhaka, Partey, or Jorginho may find greater license to roam.
Taking a longer view, getting three starts as a result of injury to the preferred player is probably not going to do much to inspire Tierney to re-commit his future to this club. If he does want to feature more often, let’s hope he makes the most of this chance to show Arteta just what he’s capable of. To call him depth is a disservice to how good he’d been for us. If nothing else (and I say so with sadness), maybe a string of solid performances will remind his suitors of what he brings and be willing to dig a little deeper to secure his services.