Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Tierney have both returned to full training in what is a huge boost for Arsenal and their shaky defence. But what will they bring to the Gunners?
Arsenal fans already know what they get from a fully fit Bellerín with the Spaniard closing in on 200 first-team appearances. His pace is arguably his best attribute, which allows him to find space in the attacking third and recover well at the back to deny opposing wingers. His 24 assists show his end product although that is also an area where he could improve.
Bellerín has constantly been linked with moves to his native Barcelona and Manchester City but he has continually snubbed those advances to remain with Arsenal. But the calibre of his suitors shows how highly regarded he is.
The 24-year-old was named in the PFA Team of the Year for 2015/16, a year in which Arsenal went close to claiming the Premier League trophy for the first time since 2003/04, and both Bellerín and Nacho Monreal were integral to the team.
That season Arsenal arguably had the best full backs in the league but a combination of form, injury and rotation since then has seen their influence wane but the return of Bellerín and signing of Tierney could see that re-emerge.
From best friends to best full-backs
The pair have already seemed to strike up a good friendship and their relationship off the field could be as important as their relationship on it.
Bellerín and Tierney are players in the mould of Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, who are widely considered the best full backs in the Premier League, and they could have a similar impact to the team.
Monreal’s departure to Real Sociedad opens the door for Tierney to take the left-back spot as his own, with the less-favoured Sead Kolašinac his only rival. And the Scotland international is a player that could help Arsenal go to the next level.
Like Bellerín, Tierney has plenty of experience for a player so young. He broke into the Celtic first team as a teenager and made 170 appearances for the Bhoys before his summer switch to North London.
He is considered a natural left back, someone who offers the team plenty of width. He bombs forward to help his winger, which could either be the pacey Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or the tricky Reiss Nelson this season, and has been compared to fellow countryman Robertson.
The appeal of Robertson is his impact in the final third while not losing any of his defensive solidarity and Tierney follows suit. His attacking statistics make for good reading with 37 assists and 8 goals for Celtic, which show he is dependable in the final third but those who have followed his career closely believe his strongest attributes remain at the back.
A mixture of strength and style
Despite his stature, Tierney is surprisingly strong and will not lose the ball easily in possession. He is positive, passionate and dynamic, is not afraid of any challenge and loves a tackle with his former captain Scott Brown telling the official Celtic website: “I love the wee man, he’s hard as nails.
“He’d tackle his granny and he’d go into any situation and thrive just because of his attitude.”
But he offers so much more than just brute strength. He is calm and composed with the ball, which will complement Unai Emery’s preferred method of playing out from the back. He can also operate as a wing back, a right back and even a centre back and his versatility is likely to be utilised with Una Emery’s frequent tinkering.
His fitness is impeccable and his constant energy means he can still be a threat going forward in the latter stages of games, which may prove to be fruitful against tiring defences.
Perhaps his best trait is his footballing intelligence. He knows when to make runs forward and when to stay back, he is good at making quick decisions and is rarely caught out of position.
Arsenal are head and shoulders above the rest of the Premier League when it comes to errors leading to goals with 29 since the beginning of the 2017/18 season, five ahead of second-placed Southampton, but Tierney offers an aura of calmness that will hopefully see that number decrease in the seasons to come.
The only question mark over his head is if he can make the step up to the Premier League. He’s proved his ability in Scotland, probably outgrew the league and needed to move in order to reach his full potential but can that be done at Arsenal?
He has all the attributes needed, his £25m price is half what Manchester United paid Crystal Palace for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and his age means he could be a star for the Arsenal for the best part of the next decade.
The Gunners’ defence has been vulnerable for a number of seasons but the addition of Tierney will undoubtedly strengthen it. The recoveries of Bellerín and Rob Holding will also make a huge difference and Arsenal may soon have a back line they can rely on.