Tierney and Bellerin – Creation through full backs
A fantastic transfer window for Arsenal saw Celtic icon and highly rated left back, Kieran Tierney join the club. For me, this signing was just as vital as a winger or center back. Keep reading and you’ll find out why.
The way football is played has been changing. If you look at the very best teams in the world, full backs play a massive role in chance creation. The really good full backs set themselves apart by establishing themselves on both ends of the pitch. It requires insane fitness levels. Getting up and down the pitch for 90 mins isn’t easy at all. It entails a variety of traits, ranging from speed, on the ball quality, passing, final ball to positional sense, awareness and 1 v 1 defending. There aren’t too many top quality full backs around. But the teams that do have such players, tend to enjoy great success. You look at Liverpool and Manchester City, for example. They are the 2 best teams in England at this moment. Liverpool create so much from out wide. Last season, their full backs were on double figures in assists and have been instrumental in them winning the Champions league and mounting a close title challenge. Pep Guardiola with Sagna and Clichy, just about scraped 3rd in his first season. His team went on another level when Mendy and Walker were brought in. Full backs are so important to the way a team is set up. They can add real quality and make a difference on both ends of the pitch.
Unai Emery is often criticized for being a ‘cut back merchant’, but really, his idea is to have multiple outlets of creation. If you cannot create centrally, play in the winger. If the winger doesn’t have a shot/pass/space to run into, he goes for a combination with the full back. Typically, forwards are man marked closely. Full backs often find themselves getting into good positions as a result. The best ones capitalize and make the difference for their respective sides. Some will say that fullbacks in general become one because they’re not good enough to be a winger, or not good enough to be a central defender. Maybe, this is true to a certain degree. But what it fails to take into account, is that the really top quality wing backs have balanced traits. Good going forward and tracking back. Just take a look at Andy Robertson for example. Adds so much value to Liverpool’s structure and philosophy as a whole.
Bellerin and Tierney are top quality. Having both of them playing benefits us in so many ways. When you look at how we’re expected to set up, Pepe combines with Bellerin on the right. And a right sides attacker, maybe Nelson/Aubameyang combines with Tierney on the left. The team symmetry is beautiful. Pepe will come inside, if he sees space, he runs into it. If he sees a pass, he makes the pass. If he sees the possibility of a shot, he will shoot. However if he’s being marked and doesn’t find much space, he will play in Bellerin on the overlap. After that, a lot of scenarios are possible. Maybe, they go for combination play and Pepe finds himself in a good position, or Bellerin does. Same goes for the left hand side. Passing options increase so much, leading to so many more patterns of play. Tierney and Bellerin are very intelligent and really agile on the ball. Same cannot be said about Kolasinac. Watch how nicely we play out from the back now. Kolasinac never really looked comfortable collecting the ball from the center back. Things will change now.
Last season, one of the main reasons Emery reverted to a back 3, was a lack of quality full backs on both sides. Bellerin has it all and was fantastic, but Kolasinac doesn’t always sense danger and is slow to react. It almost seems to me sometimes like he doesn’t want to be defend. Too concerned with venturing forward. Nacho Monreal, on the other hand, has lost his legs and keeps dropping in abject displays. So the solution was to play to the full back’ strengths by playing a 3 man defense to grant them freedom to set off their defensive woes. Was that system a success? In patches it was, but it was far from ideal. And far from what Unai Emery is about as a coach.
Unai is a 4-2-3-1 guy as Guardiola once famously said. Tierney+Bellerin are going to give him that balance he craves for. Our centre backs struggled a lot in a 4 man defense last season. Granted, they aren’t of the highest quality, but our full backs did not help matters. Many a time our center halves were covering the full back. Full back getting caught out was becoming a routine occurrence at Arsenal. But the media and everyone else,only blamed centre backs for our woes. Tierney and Bellerin will help reduce this burden. Centre backs can be focused staying in their positions, rather than doing someone else’s job. Sure, Liverpool’s defense did improve when they bought Van Djik, but there was marked improvement in the way they were structured since Robertson and Alexander Arnold played on either side. I completely understand why Arsenal prioritized the Tierney signing over a marquee centre back. In Tierney and Bellerin, I see 2 brilliant U-25 players that can be part of a really successful Arsenal side for the years to come. They have a vital role to play to make this a reality.