Arsenal have been handed a massive injury boost as two of their first choice fullbacks in Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin are set to be in action soon. Both of them are still nursing their respective injuries but are expected to return to full training in September. They have also confirmed that defender Rob Holding has already returned to training. He should be in contention to start within the next week. And this news has seen bookmakers shorten Arsenal’s odds for winning this weekend – you can take advantage of the TVG promotion and find this best price for the match against Watford.
In a season where David Luiz, Sokratis Papastahopoulos and Maitland-Niles have all caused errors at one point or the other, the return of these calibre of players couldn’t have come at a better time.
This will serve as a massive boost for Unai Emery who has missed out on the services of his key defenders so far this season. The Arsenal boss will even be left with a dilemma when all defensive personnel are fit and raring to go.
One uncertainty that has been around the Arsenal squad for years is their defensive options and whether or not Emery will choose to slot them back into the thick of the action immediately remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, let’s take a look at how the return of Tierney, Bellerin and Holding could affect the current defensive setup.
The curious case of Holding
The departure of Laurent Koscielny in the summer paved the way for Holding to become a prominent member of Arsenal’s defensive unit. He was even tipped as one of the candidates to take over the captaincy. But, that was before the Gunners opted to sign David Luiz.
On a good day, Rob Holding looks like the total package but will indeed face a tough task displacing an experienced David Luiz, no matter what the Pala.
Rob Holding: Of players aged 23 and under, only Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (67.7) is making more passes per game than Holding (61.4) in the Premier League this season (5+ apps)
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 7, 2018
The Brazilian has quickly become an integral part of the backline, having started the last three matches. However, it will be interesting if the return of Holding could affect his overall game-time.
It’s probably fair to point out that Luiz has struggled to impose his authority this season properly and Holding, in that regard, could provide some substantial competition.
What’s next for Maitland-Niles?
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has become a first-team regular at Arsenal this season, due to the absence of Bellerin. But, the Spaniard’s return to full fitness would surely reduce the overall game-time of the youngster, who is predominantly a winger.
That means Bellerin will operate as the first-choice right-back while Maitland-Niles will have to compete with the likes of Reiss Nelson and Nicolas Pepe in the right-wing slot.
However, the fact that he can feature as a wing-back will allow him to receive extra game-time, especially with Arsenal participating in the UEFA Europa League this campaign.
More balance in the team
Arsenal are currently operating with two attacking fullbacks in the shape of Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac. That means they are susceptible to exposing themselves during an offensive phase of play.
Bellerin, too, is an attack-minded fullback. But, it’s Tierney, who could reinstate the balance in the defensive department by replacing Kolasinac at left-back. The Scot is a well-rounded fullback, primarily known for his aggression and work-ethic.
Kieran Tierney in the Europa League last season:
Apps — 6⃣
Shots — 3⃣
Goals — 1⃣
Key passes — 1⃣0⃣
Accurate crosses — 6⃣
Tackles — 1⃣0⃣
Interceptions — 1⃣3⃣
Rating — 7⃣.1⃣3⃣
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 28, 2019
He is an ideal fit for the four-man defensive system. And with Arsenal boasting significant firepower on the right flank (Pepe, Nelson, Bellerin & Maitland-Niles), Tierney’s composed presence on the opposite side would help the Gunners employ a right-sided overload.
Arsenal have shown promise and purpose upfront this term. It is their defensive fragility that have cost them some dear points – just as always in the past.
For the first time in a long time, Arsenal could have decent and stable defensive options in all ramifications to call on.
Kieran Tierney was a major target for the Gunners over the summer – Bellerin is Arsenal’s best right-back option and Holding is highly rated as a centre-back and preferred by many of the Arsenal faithful to ageing and error-prone candidates in David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
If all three players get back to action and form quickly, we could be set for a twist of tales in the title race – one that may go in favour of the North London side.