Arsenal are clearly on an upwards curve. The biggest we have seen since Arsene Wenger joined in the mid-late 90s.
But with all evolution, there will be sacrifices. And like with that early Wenger team, some players will be left behind and sacrificed, even if they are fans favourites.
For Wenger, ian Wright and Paul Merson were the two most high profile players that moved in during his early days – with Merson replaced by Marc Oversmars and Nicolas Anelka taking Ian Wright’s place in the first team.
As Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal continue to grow, 2 fans favourites could find themselves surplus to requirements this summer.
Manxman Kieran Tierney was a breath a fresh air when he joined us.
In 2019 we were at our lowest. The egos had taken over and the fans and players were more disconnected than either.
Then Tierney turned up and instantly connected with the match going faithful.
He was a normal bloke who just happened to be good at football. He turned up in short sleeves and shorts, listened to Gerry Cinnamon and gave 100% every game for the team.
Tierney was also a fantastic footballer. Arguably the best left back in the league for a time. And was also a fans favourite to take over the captains armband following Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s demise a year ago.
But we knew we were signing a player with a questionable injury record.
Injury saw him miss huge chunks of the 2018/19 season with Celtic. He played just 9 games in the second half of the Scottish season prior to joining us.
It took until the end of September 2019 before Arsenal fans would see him on the pitch. And by December he had picked up an unfortunate shoulder injury that would rule him out for nearly 3 months.
He has since missed close to 50 games injured in the 4 seasons as an Arsenal player. In the last 18 months he has suffered 3 seperate knee injuries.
Tierney has also found himself fall down the pecking order.
Oleksandr Zinchenko was signed in the summer and is now clearly Arteta’s first choice left back.
When Zinchenko has been out injured, it has been Takehiro Tomiyasu rather than Tierney that has started.
Tierney is a a traditional full back. He wants to stay wide, get round the outside of his winger and whip balls in. And he is great at it.
But Arteta wants his full backs to play “inverted”. The slot inside to join Thomas Partey in midfield when we are attacking. Tierney has struggled with this role.
Ben White is firmly first choice right back, and Zinchenko at left back. Tomiyasu (who has also had his injury problems) is Arteta’s preferred option to cover both. That leaves Tierney surplus to requirements.
He would need two full backs – Zinchenko and either White or Tomiyasu – to be out injured before he sees any game time. It is not a good place mentally for a player who has previously spoken a lot about his mental health.
Whilst 3 full backs does leave us short, we have some exciting young talent coming through in Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Lino Sousa.
Right back Norton-Cuffy has taken a step up from last year’s successful loan spell at League On Lincoln City. He is now a first team regular in the Championship for Rotherham. There is no reason he can not step up to our Premier League squad next year to be 3rd choice right back.
At left back, Lino Sousa in January this year. The 17-year-old is already playing U21 football.
I would not be surprised to see Sousa follow the same route as Norton-Cuffy – a 2nd half of the season loan spell in League One before a full season of Championship football next season.
With 3 ahead of him, and 2 talented youngsters knocking at the door, it might be a good time to cash in on Tierney.
I love Rob Holding. He is living every fans dream.
Signed from Bolton in 2016, he probably never dreamed that he woukld play 150 times for The Arsenal, and play such a key role in the heart of the defence as we won two FA Cups.
Every top side needs a Holding.
4th choice centre back, he is solid, dependable and – most importantly – a top professional.
He realised he is “onto a good thing” at Arsenal and is clearly not pushing to leave.
Like Tierney, he was part of the “leadership group” prior to this season, and would often wear the captains armband in the Europa League.
But against Zurich in the final Europa League game, it was new signing Gabriel Jesus that captained the team rather than either Holding or Tierney.
That raises the question as to whether Holding or Tierney are even part of the leadership group anymore?
Based on who has warn the armband this season, it is Martin Odegaard, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus. You would imagien Ghana captain is also part of the leadership team, and potentially Gabriel Magalhaes on behalf of the defence.
Rob Holding would still have a future at the club as 4th choice central defender, but that is a role he might end up losing in the near future.
As mentioned, Ben White is now first choice right back. His performances there got him into the England World Cup squad.
That leaves Arsenal with just 3 “specialist” centre backs – William Saliba, Gabriel and Holding.
So it is likely that we will look to sign a new 3rd choice defender this summer. Potentially someone who plays on the left hand side of 2.
That individual would be closer to the quality of Gabriel and Saliba than Holding is. They would give Arteta quality cover for his favoured pair without having to move White inside.
White would then perform the dual role of 1st choice right back, 4th choice central defender. The result is Holding would be pushed down to 5th choice centre back and probably never see a minutes football.
Plenty will probably disagree that this could be the last season we see Holding and Tierney in an Arsenal shirt. But you can not stand in the way of progression.
This season both have fallen out of Arteta’s leadership group and are very much fringe players.
As we continue to strive to improve the team, the squad, both could be left further behind.
There would be plenty of Premier League interest in the pair, and this summer could be the last we can sell either before their value declines due to lack of game time.
In Rob Holding’s case, he only has 18 months left on his contract (although Arsenal do have an option of an additional year).
One thing we can all agree on is Arsenal need to do a better job selling players. And key in that is selling at the right time.
This summer could be the right time for Holding and Tierney.