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No-nonsense Kieran Tierney and his Tesco bag the perfect embodiment of Mikel Arteta's Arsenal vision
Kieran Tierney and Arsenal are in action exclusively live on BT Sport on Wednesday when they play host to relegation-battlers Norwich.
Arsenal players filed off the team bus and into Bramall Lane, having their temperatures taken by medical staff on the way into the ground.
Kieran Tierney, one of the last off just behind Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding, follows in a short-sleeve training top and clutching a Tesco bag presumably containing his matchday kit.
In an era where fans have become accustomed to seeing players disembarking the team bus wearing Beats headphones and carrying Gucci washbags, it was a refreshing sight.
“Every little helps,” he later tweeted after receiving the man of the match award for his display in the FA Cup quarter-final win.
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To say that his brand of bag makes Tierney a better player is admittedly a little facetious. But in an Arsenal side severely lacking in the correct dressing room personalities to take them forward, the left back’s no-nonsense, business-like approach is exactly what the team needs.
Tierney is a defender who relishes defending. The 23-year-old is a tough tackler who loves tracking back and marking his man just as much as bombing on to support the attack.
The Scotsman is deceptively strong and possesses a great nose for sniffing out danger. As he did on occasions during his Celtic career, Tierney played on the left of a back three on Sunday and was by far the standout defender in Arsenal’s backline.
There’s a feeling that many of his fellow defenders aren’t defensive-minded enough to be, well, good at defending.
Back in February, Mikel Arteta recognised this. After a 1-0 win away at Olympiacos – a Europa League tie which they eventually lost – the Spaniard spoke of the need for his players to “enjoy defending”.
A glance at Tierney’s defensive partners that day and it’s easy to see not many fit that mould.
At centre back, Shkodran Mustafi’s lack of concentration has cost Arsenal goals time and time again while David Luiz’s catalogue of errors made headlines throughout last week after a disastrous display at Manchester City.
And of the wing backs, Sead Kolasinac is always willing to get forward yet slow to track back while Ainsley Maitland-Niles actually told Unai Emery – “I’m not a defender”.
Mustafi and Kolasinac were involved in the calamitous Sheffield United equaliser when, after substitute Rob Holding missed a header, Kolasinac rifled a clearance off of Mustafi and into the path of a grateful David McGoldrick.
Arsenal’s regular starter on the opposite flank Hector Bellerin, who Tierney bonded with as they both returned from injury lay-offs earlier this season, is more renowned going forward than at the back.
That’s not to say Tierney isn’t effective in the opposition third. At Celtic he forged a reputation as the best attacking full back north of the border and in limited outings for Arsenal he’s demonstrated the ease at which he can get to the by-line and cross.
His European debut saw him whip in a delightful ball for Gabriel Martinelli’s opener during a thumping win over Standard Liege. But it’s his work without the ball that will excite his coach more.
Arteta has been strictly business since arriving back at the club where he played between 2011 and 2016. Tierney suits that approach perfectly.
“He’s been one of the positives since I joined,” said Arteta at his pre-match press conference before the visit of Norwich, exclusively live on BT Sport.
“His character, the way he trains, the way he pushes himself. He is exactly what we need and he is the kind of player I love.”
“I’m really, really happy with him. He had some tough moments but he is much happier and settled [now].”
Asked about the Tesco carrier bag, Arteta added simply: “This is Kieran. He is a very humble, normal guy and he does what he thinks is right.”
What he thinks is right includes refusing to wear anything other than short-sleeve training gear regardless of the conditions.
Training at London Colney in mid-winter and wearing just short sleeves and shorts, team-mates Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette jokingly tweeted their shock at the left-back’s hardiness.
Tierney would later be seen warming up in the freezing rain in Guimaraes in a t-shirt and arriving for matches in the same attire while his team-mates wear coats, snoods and gloves.
“The winter down here is nothing compared to the winter in Scotland,” Tierney said to Sky Sports. “You should see the winter in Scotland, then we’ll talk.
"People always say, 'why aren't you training in a jumper?' but I never play in a jumper on a Saturday, so it makes sense to wear the same attire in training. I don't mean anything by it, it's just what I feel comfortable in."
It’s not been a seamless transition to life in London for Tierney. After joining last summer from Celtic – Tierney arrived in the shadow of the club-record purchase of Nicolas Pepe - he didn’t make his debut until late October due to a hip injury he’d been carrying.
And after establishing himself in the team, his run was cruelly cut short just a month-and-a-half later when he suffered a shoulder injury against West Ham.
But returning following the coronavirus postponement, Tierney has featured in all four of Arsenal’s matches – starting three of them.
Arteta will now hope his left back can string together a run of games as Arsenal look to keep their hopes of European qualification alive.
Bottom-side Norwich at home shouldn’t be the most taxing fixture for Arsenal’s defence but as a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road demonstrated, the Gunners struggle to keep even the division’s basement boys at bay.
If there is any dirty work to do at the back though, Arteta knows one man he can count on.