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Arsenal’s injury crisis: How will Arteta cope without Tierney and Partey?

10:00 EAT 08/04/2022
Mikel Arteta Arsenal Premier League 2021-22
The Gunners lost their grip on fourth place after a crushing Premier League loss at Crystal Palace and now they must make do without two key players

Arsenal were hit with a hammer blow this week with the news that Kieran Tierney will miss the remainder of the season and that Thomas Partey is also facing a long spell on the sidelines.

Tierney will undergo surgery this week on his left knee and is not expected to return to full fitness until July, just in time for the start of pre-season training.

It's currently unclear exactly how long Partey will be sidelined with the thigh injury he sustained during the second half of Monday night’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.

But a statement released by Arsenal on Thursday revealed that the midfielder will have to see a specialist over the coming weeks, suggesting that he will not be available any time soon.

Both players are crucial members of Mikel Arteta’s squad and their absence over the closing weeks of the campaign will be a real issue for the Gunners as they continue to battle for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

So, how will Arteta fill the void left by Tierney and Partey? GOAL takes a look at the options below...

Replace Tierney with Tavares

There should be a simple solution for Arteta at left-back.

Nuno Tavares was brought in from Benfica last summer to be Tierney's understudy – something Arsenal had lacked before his arrival.

However, the Portuguese has performed poorly in recent appearances. 

He was brought off at half-time against Palace after enduring a torrid time at Selhurst Park and, in his previous start, against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, he lasted just 35 minutes before being replaced.

Tavares is clearly struggling for form and confidence, looking completely different to the player who made such an impact during his first few months in north London.

Arteta must, therefore, decide whether to persist with the 22-year-old and hope he plays himself back into some form, or turn to someone else to fill the void left by Tierney.

Sticking with Tavares would certainly be the least disruptive option for Arteta. 

It would allow him to stick with the 4-3-3 system he has been using in the past few months while still having a natural left-back in defence.

It would also leave him with the relatively simple choice of replacing Partey with either Sambi Lokonga or Mohamed Elneny in midfield.

Turn to Cedric

If Arteta wants to stick with a back four but doesn’t trust using Tavares at left-back, he does have the option of using Cedric Soares in that role.

It’s a position the Portuguese international has played before during his time at Arsenal and his experience should see him do a decent enough job if called upon again.

But with Takehiro Tomiyasu currently injured, Arsenal do not have another senior right-back option, so if Arteta did decide to switch Cedric over the opposite flank, it would likely mean moving Ben White out of his natural position in the centre of defence and using him as a makeshift right-back.

That is far from ideal as it would leave Arsenal with two full-backs who would be playing out of position and it would also mean breaking up White’s partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes at centre-back.

And with Cedric being naturally right-footed, it would leave Arsenal unbalanced down the left-hand side.

The Xhaka stopgap

This was the option Arteta chose towards the end of last season when Tierney also succumbed to injury.

When Tavares was substituted at Palace, it was Xhaka who moved to the left side of the defence.

But the injury sustained by Partey at Selhurst Park will surely rule out Xhaka as a long-term option for Arteta when it comes to filling in for Tierney.

With the Ghana international facing up to several weeks out, it’s highly unlikely that Arteta will decide to take Xhaka out of central midfield as well.

The latter has been exceptional in 2022 and Arsenal will be hoping he will not be sidelined too long.

Elneny and Lokonga are the main contenders to deputise, although youngster Charlie Patino has just returned from injury and could also come into the mix.

Lokonga showed flashes of real quality when he had an extended spell in the side earlier in the season and the 22-year-old could now has a real opportunity to make his mark in the first team once again.

The back three option

Arteta has changed to a back three more than once in recent weeks, bringing on Rob Holding to help see out games.

The 26-year-old has slotted between White and Gabriel and has produced some impressive cameos in the closing stages of tight games, especially away at Wolves and Aston Villa.

So, it’s a legitimate option for Arteta, as it would also allow him to use Tavares as a left-sided wing-back, which would suit him better because of his attacking capabilities.

He could then pair Xhaka with either Lokonga or Elneny in the heart of midfield.

But switching formations at such a crucial time of the season could be disruptive as Arteta’s players have become accustomed to the 4-3-3 system he has settled on recently.

It would see some have to adjust to new roles, which could take time - which is not ideal when every single point will be crucial between now and the end of the season in the race for the top four.

Playing with a back three would also make it difficult to give Martin Odegaard the type of freedom in the final third that he has flourished in since the turn of the year.

Switching Saka

Bukayo Saka is so good he could comfortably fill in at left-back and still be one of Arsenal’s best players.

The 20-year-old played in the position several times when he first broke into the team and showed he can defend well while also still being a threat going forward.

But while there is no doubt Saka could do the job, moving him out of the attack now would make very little sense at all.

He is Arsenal’s top scorer this season and, with Alexandre Lacazette offering almost no goal threat at all in the central attacking position, Arsenal simply can’t do without Saka in the final third of the pitch.

So, of all of the options available to Arteta when it comes to replacing Tierney, this should be last on the list.

The verdict 

Nuno Tavares was brought in to be Tierney’s understudy, so he should be the man to replace the Scotland international.

He may be out of form, but he should be given Saturday’s game against Brighton at least to try and get back to the sort of level he produced during the opening months of the season when he really caught the eye at left-back.

Sticking with Tavares would be by far the least disruptive option for Arteta and it would allow him to switch Xhaka into the deeper midfield role to cover for the absence of Partey and play Lokonga slightly in front of the Switzerland international. 

Employing a back three could potentially work, but changing formations at this stage of the season is far from ideal and could do more harm than good.

And the other options would cause too much upheaval in terms of moving players out of their natural positions.

Tavares was signed to ensure Arsenal had natural cover for Tierney, so now is the time to put some trust in him.