Last Sunday, it was massive. It was special and moving, reflects Kieran Tierney, as we sit and talk days after Arsenal’s 3-2 Premier League win over Liverpool.
Tierney was on the pitch at the end to soak up the win as Mikel Arteta led the celebrations and said: “There was obviously a lot of talk about the game in the build up and to go and play like we did against this best team It was amazing. An exciting time because you could also see the fans, how happy they were. We were feeding on that as well.
At the end, but not at the start, as Arteta – without Oleksandr Zinchenko due to injury – opted for Takehiro Tomiyasu instead of him at left-back.
“I was thinking, I got pulled on Thursday and maybe they’re keeping me for Sunday and maybe at the time that was his plan as well,” Tierney explained.
“Then the day before he said ‘it’s not about your performance, it’s just the tactical change I want to make’. I’m gutted, but that’s it. I’m not going to be angry and don’t not try hard.
“I want to play every chance I can, especially in big games. You want to play, you want that atmosphere. There’s nothing I can say and then Tomiyasu is playing amazing and the game plan has worked and it just shows you, probably not many managers would think of reversing the right here, but he did and it worked.”
A knee injury earlier this year left Arsenal short as they chased a Champions League place and Tierney’s fitness issues continued into the start of this season, missing pre-season before being accelerated against Crystal Palace to replace an injured Zinchenko.
He’s been working hard to recover, so the weekend’s decision came as a surprise, saying: “I’ve really never had this. It was the first meeting I’ve had like in my life where I got dropped, so it’s still new to me.
“Like this season has been new for me. There was a spell last season, three or four games that I didn’t play, but since I started the season I haven’t really played, so it’s is new to me.
“I’m learning, I’m coping, but it’s tough, football is what I want to play. I’ve worked so hard to recover from injury so you want to play as much as you can as soon as you can. that you’ I’m back. Unfortunately, I haven’t played much, but every time I have the opportunity to play, I’m very grateful. I’m working as hard as I can for the team.
Tierney has found his way to deal with the disappointment – a dog walk, a chat with the physios or sports scientists certainly helped, as did his best friend Chef Jonny, who rose to fame in the recent documentary by Arsenal so much so that it now has its own place nearby.
What the defender thinks will get him back to where he wants to be is his scorching competitive nature.
“I’m just going to try to put my head down, work hard. I can’t change anything other than the way I approach training, the way I work.”
After a – albeit not the most eye-catching – Europa League win over Bodo/Glimt, Arsenal return from the Arctic Circle in Norway to Leeds on Sunday.
Last weekend was all about proving as a group that they had the resilience and mentality to take on one of the big boys. This week is about showing they can back it up.
“It was a huge game, and we went to prove that we could do it against teams that have been at the top for years, with world-class players and that kept us top of the league as well,” explained Tierney.
“So now every game is also huge in that regard. We want to stay there as long as possible, so that was huge.
“It’s a very difficult league, we’ve seen that in recent years. We never started well last year, but we climbed up the table and that’s why we can’t get carried away because we know that there are still 30 games to play.
“It’s just a very good start we’ve had and this month until the World Cup is crucial. I think if we can continue until the break and some of us can rest , we can come back from the World Cup and start again.”
Even before the win over Liverpool, Arsene Wenger thought Arsenal were title contenders, so is Tierney starting to believe?
“He knows a lot about football, but it’s early, just nine games. It’s the goal for everyone to finish as high as possible and I’m sure all the other teams have the same goals. We We’ll just see, we won’t get carried away. I think that’s also very important.”
The most important thing is that the place is lively and the environment created by Arteta is happy. It took time but sometimes it pays to be patient, says the defender.
“A new manager and a new style of play is going to take time to play the way he wants. If it was easy to go and do it in one game, everyone would do it. The detail he puts in, the “effort he and his staff put together was always going to work, but it was going to take time. You could always see over the past two seasons that it was working, but now we’ve done it more consistently.
Performing week after week is, as Tierney says, difficult. The summer signings of Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko from Manchester City with the extraordinarily high standards programmed there must have helped.
But the return of Wiliam Saliba to the club has bought serene assurance at the back. Alongside Gabriel – Arteta talked about analyzing defenders only in partnerships – the pair have become something of a rock.
“I think Saliba has done wonders,” Tierney said. “I’m really, really happy because he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
“He probably found it difficult when he first came here – he was very young and had to go alone a few times – and that just shows the character he has. He can come back and fit in. the team as if he had been here for the last two or three years.
“So all the credit goes to him because he’s an amazing player, amazing guy and deserves all the good he deserves.”
Tierney has played alongside some impressive centre-backs, including Virgil Van Dyke at Celtic, so how good is Saliba at the moment?
“I think those similarities run through a lot of players. Even when Ben [White] played there last season, I saw them. He was calm on the ball. He could carry it out from the defense.
“Obviously Saliba has that too. It’s just different stature and different builds and it works so well. You see how well he does at right-back as well and it’s just amazing. It’s a great team to be a part of now.”
How awesome is that? After a tricky trip to Norway and two mentally and physically draining wins over Tottenham and Liverpool on Sunday against Leeds, we might just know a bit more.