‘The kind of player I love!’ – Arteta’s Arsenal lifted by Tierney’s timely return

Kieran Tierney Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2019-20 GFX

The Gunners defender has made just 15 appearances during his first season in north London but was named man of the match against Sheffield United

When the coronavirus pandemic brought football to a shuddering halt in March, Kieran Tierney set about using the break to his advantage.

Arsenal’s left-back had not played since dislocating his shoulder in the 3-1 win at West Ham just before Christmas and although he was closing in on a return at the time of the lockdown, he was only expecting to make a handful of appearances before the end of the campaign.

So, when it became clear that football was going to remain suspended for quite some time, Tierney was determined to ensure that when it returned, he would hit the ground running.

The Scotland international, who joined the Gunners from Celtic in a £25 million ($31m) deal last year, was in constant contact with the Arsenal’s medical department and the sports science team while he was at home, doing all he could to get himself in the best shape possible to for the restart.

Now, he is reaping the benefits, as Sunday’s man of the match-winning performance against Sheffield United in the FA Cup quarter-final demonstrated.

Tierney was excellent at Bramall Lane, both in defence and attack. Operating as the left-wing back, he topped the charts for crosses, interceptions and passes in the opposition half.

He also gained possession five times, had two shots on goal and delivered the pass into the box that led to Alexandre Lacazette being tripped for Arsenal’s first-half penalty.

It was a superb all-round performance from a player who many outside of Arsenal would have forgotten about, given the issues he has had with injuries since arriving from Glasgow.

But those who saw Tierney at Bramall Lane would have been given the perfect reminder as to why Arsenal kept returning with improved offers for Tierney during one of the most protracted transfer sages of last summer.

“He’s been training incredibly hard through [the] Covid-19 [lockdown] ,” Mikel Arteta said asked about Tierney following the 2-1 success at Sheffield United.

“It’s been tough for him in the last six or seven months, to move here from a different city, a different football club.

“He is a kid with an incredible attitude and he is so willing to learn and to put in everything he has. He has a massive heart and I am delighted to have him in the team.

“I think he’s going to bring something special to us. He’s the kind of player that I love; a kid who is going to get better and better and better.”

Just like with the signing of Gabriel Martinelli, the capture of Tierney shows that Arsenal’s recruitment policy is hardly a disaster. In the Scot, they have landed themselves a young player with huge potential.

Injures may have severely hampered his debut campaign in north London but he is now fully fit and that bodes well for the 2020-21 campaign, when he will be looking to make up for lost time.

Tierney has all the attributes to be a star under Arteta. His work ethic, his versatility, his desire to improve – they are all things that suggest he is going to thrive under the Spaniard, who has already made a big impression on the defender.

“He’s been brilliant,” Tierney told Sky Sports. “Obviously, I was injured when he first came in and that was so unfortunate because you want to impress the new manager and get off to a good start.

“But even then, he was good with me. He watched me from afar and asked for updates on how I was doing.

“We did Zoom calls and he gave me stuff to work on and pointers to look out for in certain games. It’s been an absolute joy to train with him. I feel as if I’m learning every single day.

“Every day in training you know you’re going there to work. There are times for a laugh and a joke – Mikel loves that as well – but when we’re working, we’re working.”

Tierney’s no-nonsense approach to the game has already made himself a popular figure with the Arsenal fans. It’s little things such as wearing shorts and T-shirts during winter training, to carrying his gear into Bramall Lane on Sunday in a Tesco’s bag.

“That’s Kieran,” laughs Arteta. “He’s a very humble, normal guy. He does what he feels is right.”

“I’m just who I am,” added the defender. “It’s how I play and how I work. I’ve learned from good people as well.”

Tierney captained Celtic, his boyhood club, when he was just 21 and points to Bhoys skipper Scott Brown as someone who has had a huge influence on his career so far.

Many are already tipping the defender, who turned 23 last month, to go on and captain Arsenal one day, but for now his focus is purely on helping his side finish the season as strongly as possible.

The Gunners host Norwich City on Wednesday night before starting a period of games which will see them face Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool in the league before taking on Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.

For many, that would be a daunting prospect, but for Tierney it’s an opportunity to test himself against the best that England has to offer and to remind everyone once again that the £25m investment Arsenal made in his services was money well spent.