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How Kieran Tierney’s absence proved he was Arsenal’s most creative influence

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Kieran Tierney has been left out of the Arsenal squad which were frustrated with a 0-0 draw by Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on Thursday night.

His absence was sold as a precaution after the Scotland international felt muscle tension ahead of the game.

The man tasked with replacing the 23-year-old was Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who despite showing previously he is more than capable of functioning as a full-back, to be quite frank, had a bit of a stink.

Tierney’s absence led to a lack of fluidity on the left side as his replacement was unable to influence the game in the final third in the way former Celtic has done in recent weeks.

Being a right-handed player playing on the left meant Maitland-Niles had to forever cut across the field and on his stronger foot. This often disrupted the flow of attacks and led to a lack of breadth, playing directly into the hands of visitors.

Seen by many initially as an old-fashioned, no-frills defender, Tierney impressed Arsenal loyalists by displaying attacking prowess hitherto untapped in recent times, even scoring an astonishing goal at the Hawthorns on January 2.

The fact that he has created chances recently with his marauding run down the left flank has seen him emerge as perhaps Mikel Arteta’s biggest creative influence.

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Tierney scored a superb goal in the snow at the Hawthorns | RUI VIEIRA / Getty Images

In terms of progressive passes – defined as a pass that brings the ball at least ten yards closer to the opponent’s goal or a pass accomplished in the penalty area – Tierney, in the recent streak of three successive Premier League victories , succeeded eleven. It was eight more than Bukayo Saka and seven more than Emile Smith Rowe (via fbref.com).

Perhaps that is proof of how important the Scotsman is to this team and an indicator of how much they missed them against Palace. Or perhaps represents the creative weakness Arsenal have in more advanced positions.

The Gunners have been linked with a number of attacking midfielders during this transfer window, with Emiliano Buendia of Norwich City, Julian Brandt of Borussia Dortmund and Isco of Real Madrid among the main names. You could argue that any one of the three would go some way in adding some much-needed cunning to a midfielder who for the most part was clearly lacking this season in this department.

With the Gunners having scored just 20 goals in their 18 Premier League appearances so far, a solution to a problem that surfaced again on Thursday should be Arteta’s biggest concern.

Given that the club recently took out a loan from the Bank of England to help deal with the financial impact of the current health crisis, you could be forgiven for thinking that the north London club are unlikely to spend a lot of money on the issue by the end of the month.

Saka and Smith Rowe’s impressive performances have earned them applause since the win over Chelsea on Boxing Day and their positive influence should not be overlooked. However, Tierney’s absence against Palace seemed to cripple the Gunners considerably in a creative sense.

So maybe, even though many have put the recent recovery in shape with the introduction of a specialized attacking midfielder – on Thursday night it was shown that Arsenal’s biggest creative influence at the moment was in fact on the ground all the time.