Arsenal have ‘the best overlapping centre-back in world football’ in Kieran Tierney.
That is the view of Scotland national team manager Steve Clarke whose stunning seven-word claim may give Gunners boss Mikel Arteta a secret weapon in the Premier League top-four race with Manchester United, West Ham United, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur.
This was on show at last summer’s European Championships following Clarke’s decision to switch from a back four to accommodate the Gunners ace and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson in the same side.
And despite needing to convince Tierney that he would be perfect in this somewhat of a new role, Clarke now thinks the Arsenal defender is ‘the best overlapping centre-back in the world’.
“The personnel we had – we had two of the best left-backs in world football, Tierney and Robertson, and had to figure out how to get them in the team,” Clarke said on the High Performance Podcast. “At that moment I didn’t think the centre-back options were great, so let’s pick three and see if that makes it better!
“My idea was that Tierney could play centre-back and I had this mad idea that Scott McTominay could play as one of the others.
“I had good midfield players and I wanted to get three or four into the team but had nothing great up front really.
“I had a really good conversation with Tierney to tell him he was going to be the best left-sided centre-back that Scotland had ever had.
“But I think he always felt that he was a better left-back than Andy Robertson. Every player thinks they’re better than the immediate competition and if you compare them, there isn’t a cigarette paper between them.
“I had to persuade Kieran that he was better than Andy and that’s why I trusted him to play left centre-back and not Andy. Now, that’s probably not strictly true but that’s how I had to sell it to Kieran.
“Now we’ve got the best overlapping centre-back in world football. It works.
“Selling that position to Kieran was important and it was a really good conversation, he asked a lot of really good questions.
“I told him I loved him and I wanted him to play there.”
Of course, playing as a central defender in a back three is nothing new to Tierney as it’s a role he has played several times for Arsenal following the appointment of Arteta.
Most notably he played there as Gunners beat both Manchester City and Chelsea to win the FA Cup in 2020 and at the start of last season against the likes of Liverpool and Man United.
So for Arteta to benefit from having ‘the best overlapping centre-back in the world’ he knows he must ditch his 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3 systems and return to a 3-4-3.
Only once this season have Arsenal not lined up at the start of a game with a back four – the 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Man City back in August – so it would be a surprise if they made a sudden change at this stage of the season.
Although based on previous success with a back three, coupled with Clarke’s claim, means Arteta has a proven trick up his sleeve that could alter the course of the top-four race.