What’s next—or left—for Tomiyasu and Tierney?


Takehiro Tomiyasu. Kieran Tierney. Each of them had their turn as an emerging Arsenal favorite, each of them bursting forward with lung-bursting runs to remind us of the likes of Sagna or Cole, and it felt like they would be nailed-on starters for the foreseeable future. And then…well…it all went somewhat sideways. Both players suffered injuries, Tierney missing the 2021-22 run-in and Tomi missing the 2022-23 run-in. Each was instrumental, even inspirational at times, but both now seem almost forgettable. What gives?

The short version is that each has been Pipped. For those unfamiliar, Wally Pipp was one his way to becoming one of the best to have ever played baseball back in the early 1900s. He led the American League in home runs in 1916 and 1917. He helped the New York Yankees win three consecutive American League pennants from 1921 through 1923, winning the 1923 World Series. Then, in 1925, he sat out a match due to a headache, clearing the way for Lou Gehrig to commence his record-setting streak of 2,130 games played, a record that would stand for almost sixty years. This spawned the phrase “to be Pipped.”

Tomiyasu’s case is the clearer one, so let’s start there. He set Gooners’ hearts alight with his bombing runs forward throughout most of the 2021-22 season, looking like he’d laid claim to the right-back spot for the near-future. However, a serious calf injury ended his campaign and cleared the way for Ben White to slot over from CB, from which he had been impressive but was even more so as the kind of right back who could get forward, invert a bit when necessary, and, most crucially, link up with Bukayo Saka. There’s really no shame in losing one’s position when your replacement performs as well as Gehrig or White performed. In fact, Tomiyasu was so good and so trusted by Arteta that he was entrusted at left-back over Tierney himself, even if it was just for a few matches.

Tierney’s case is the more-puzzling, even if we admit that Zinchenko has dazzled as he’s almost invented the inverted left-back position on the fly. However, when injuries to Saliba, Tomiyasu, and Zinchenko forced Arteta’s hand, he didn’t turn to Tierney even though his only other alternatives were to play the clearly out-of-his-depth Holding or to throw on the newly-signed Kiwior (who displaced Tierney at left-back so that Partey could play at right-back in the waning weeks).. Tierney could have deputised at centre-back, the role he plays for Scotland, but, for some reason, Arteta apparently couldn’t stomach that. Even after it became clear that moving White to CB deprived Saka of valuable service, Arteta, perhaps stubbornly, stuck to his guns. Tierney has his short-comings. He’s not great in the air. He struggles against inverted wingers. He hasn’t learned to replicate the role Zinchenko plays. Still, the same is true of Zinchenko on at least two of the those three scores.

Looking at it from another perspective, maybe it’s Tomiyasu whose future is the more perilous. Signing Jurriën Timber is an indication that Arteta may want to occasionally “flip” the backline, at times going with Zinchenko as the inverting left-back who becomes an additional midfielder while White operates as a somewhat-more traditional right-back who gets up the pitch but stays wide-ish, at times going with TImber as the inverting right-back who becomes the additional midfielder while Tierney operates as the more-traditional left-back who gets up the pitch but stays wide. This may leave Tomiyasu on the outs, as he’d be behind White and Timber in either case.

On a broader scale, it’s quite grand to ponder the idea that Arteta may have a dilemma very different to the one he’s dealt with since taking the helm. He now has a plethora of options at multiple positions. Add into this mix the signings of Trossard, Havertz and Timber and the returns to fitness of Smith Rowe Tierney, and Tomiyasu, He can no longer fall back on the idea of a thin squad that ties his tactical hands. He’s now playing with a full deck.

Even if Guardiola and Man City are dealing from the bottom of the deck, we should expect something quite grand from the upcoming season. It’s up to Arteta to show that he can manage a squad that offers him options. What this means for Tierney and Tomiyasu is anyone’s guess.

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7 thoughts on “What’s next—or left—for Tomiyasu and Tierney?

  1. Jax

    Of the the three of them I have a preference for Tomiyasu in that left back position. He’s strong on both feet, so can deal with forwards attempting to pass him on either side, has the height to defend corners & long free kicks and could get up & down the line to support Martinelli. Not so great at inverting, but Zinchenko (for me) just gets in the way of the other mids, and is a poor defender. Tierney would just be a good but reliable squad member, but probably will wish to be first choice, so may have to go.

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Good points on Tomi. Tierney is very left-footed – almost as one-footed as they come, come to think of it. Still, he should be good enough to allow Zinchenko to rest. If Timber is to play a similar, inverted role from the right, the problem you mention gets worse. How many players can squeeze into the same area of the pitch? With Zinchenko and Timber inverting, not only will there be congestion in the middle, we’ll leave plenty of space in the wide areas for through balls and wingers running at pace after them. I wonder if Arteta envisions playing only one inverted wingback at a time, which would leave time for Tierney, Tomiyasu, and White to rotate. This squad is turning into a dynamic if crowded one!

  2. Eoin ó Conchobhair

    Arteta continues to build a deep squad that will give him tactical options! Now he has to show that he can manage them without tinkering like a madman (or his mentor) I don’t think we’ll see Zinny and Timber play at the same time, too many players playing in the same area, and White & Saka link up really well. I thought Martinelli & Tierney linked up well also, but Martinelli is becoming so good that it almost doesn’t matter who’s behind him.

  3. Andy

    Think we may all be over analysing, (not the comments today specifically, I’ve only been reading this blog for a few weeks now), we’ve all been wishing for cover in all positions for years. Now we seem to have, (nearly), all bases covered, and we’re still all being really picky! This IS our time, we will be a force for the next 5-10 years! We should calm down and enjoy it for FS! Enjoy the ride…

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Overanalysis is what the summer/silly season/preseason are for! Without any actual matches to discuss, we’re left with little else but scrutinising every last morsel of evidence. Tomorrow’s match against Barca should provide more grist for the mill, but, as you end by saying, enjoy the ride! It’s hard to resist feeling some excitement around the squad we’re building.

  4. jw1

    “On a broader scale, it’s quite grand to ponder the idea that Arteta may have a dilemma very different to the one he’s dealt with since taking the helm. He now has a plethora of options at multiple positions.”

    And Mikel must get it right from the off. Having a small core of trusted players playing all but a few matches is a self-solving problem. This time around he h as to make bothe right strategic choice based on opponent, and the right combo of players to pull it off. Oh, and– we’re going to need it to add up to 90 pts next May.

    No pressure!

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see an uneven start even if we do have a somewhat softer start to the season, home to Nottingham Forest and Fulham and away to Zaha-less Palace sandwiched in-between. I think our fanbase is willing to be patient with such a start as long as we right the ship in the Prem and acquit ourselves in the Champions League group stage. Just hearing that anthem alone is a worthy sign of progress – a restoration of order.

      You are quite right to suggest that Arteta will be under the cosh, having gotten so much support already this summer. Even if replacing Xhaka with Rice is the only change to the XI, there’s going to be heightened expectations, and managing those will be just as vital as managing the squad itself. I don’t think the Kroenkes are as trigger-happy as Abramovich, Mansour, or Chelsea when it comes to firing managers, but there’ll be pressure all the same.


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