Arsenal star admits ‘chances are I’m leaving’ but is ‘prepared’ for Arteta recall amid ‘no hard feelings’

Jason Soutar
Kieran Tierney discusses his Arsenal exit
Kieran Tierney discusses his Arsenal exit

Kieran Tierney admits that he expects to be sold by Arsenal this summer but is “prepared” to stay and fight for a starting spot in Mikel Arteta’s side.

Tierney joined Arsenal from Celtic for around £25million in 2019 and won the FA Cup in his first season at the club.

The Scottish left-back has struggled with several injuries during his time in north London and fell out of favour at the start of last season following the signing of Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Zinchenko was brought in to play as an inverted left-back, a role that does not suit galloping old-school full-back Tierney, and after a difficult 2022/23 campaign, the 26-year-old joined Spanish side Real Sociedad on a season-long loan.

A permanent transfer away from the Gunners this summer feels inevitable and Tierney knows that, admitting that the left-back position is well stacked and there is a chance he is fifth in Arteta’s pecking order.

“There is every chance,” Tierney said in an interview with The Athletic when asked if he will leave Arsenal. “Look at the squad depth in that position now. They have Zinchenko, (Jurrien) Timber, (Takehiro) Tomiyasu, (Jakub) Kiwior. Four players can play there.

“So if I go back and it’s the same as before then I’m not silly, I know the chances are I’ll be leaving.

“But you never know in football. You get the rare case with (William) Saliba, where he came back after a couple of good seasons (out on loan) but you don’t see it too often with someone who has played for four years, left, and then come back to play again.

“Stranger things have happened. I could go back and there is a place for me. So I’m prepared for both.”

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Despite being such an important player under Unai Emery and then in Arteta’s first few years at the club, Tierney has said he has no spiteful feelings and admits that the decision to replace him with Zinchenko was “100 per cent correct”.

“There are no hard feelings or spite from me,” he said. “I understand the decision of the manager to change me from No 1 to No 2. It’s football.

“It never happened in a personal way. It was tactical. He thought it was best to get Arsenal results — and he was 100 per cent correct, when you look at it. They were close to winning the league last year, and this year I think they’ll do it.

“The Arsenal fans are amazing. Whenever I post, or Sociedad post, there are still fans saying, ‘We wish you were here’. It makes me happy, as they could easily just forget about me because I’m not there anymore.”

Tierney says Arteta did not inform him of his plans to start Zinchenko over him, but he always knew that was the case deep down.

“Nah, I just kind of got the feeling,” he said. “At the tail-end of the season before (2021-22), it was being implemented in training a bit. So when he came, I was thinking, ‘Will he play centre-mid(field) or will he be the left-back who goes inside?’.

“In pre-season, I knew I had to get my head down and try to learn it. The first few months, it was about being inside more or higher up, it was just repetition of having the ball.

“In training, anyone can do it, but going into games you need to know exactly when to turn, when to play forward, when to bounce it back. It’s just trying it, making mistakes and learning for next time.

“For me, the best thing was watching Zinchenko do it.”

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Asked if there is any frustration that Arteta’s system could have been tweaked to suit his style of play, Tierney replied: “I know what you mean, as I’ve seen some of the games and Ben White was inverting, but the manager was doing what he thought was best for the team again.

“Arteta believed in me to play there (inverted). He told me that and he showed me clips from training to prove I can do it. If I was asked to do it at Sociedad, I’d do it no problem, as (well as) I can, but you’re comparing me to Zinchenko. He was brought up as a centre-mid, so you’re up against it. He’s a technical genius.

“We are both completely different players: physically, technically, tactically. We’re not similar left-backs but we were doing similar jobs, which was more difficult for me than him.”

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Who is the better player: Tierney or Zinchenko? Join the debate here.

As he touched on before, Tierney has backed Arsenal to beat Manchester City to the Premier League title this season, hailing the culture that has been created at the club and the leadership in the squad, led by captain Martin Odegaard.

“He leads by example. You don’t get captains like Scott Brown at Celtic anymore. It’s just a different type of leadership,” Tierney added.

“Martin speaks in the dressing room and in the huddle but that changing room is full of leaders and people who will step up. Nobody hid last season. We’d openly say what we thought in the changing room. Last season was maybe one season too early (for Arsenal as potential champions). At that point, it was most people’s first title race in the Premier League.”

More: Arsenal news | Mikel Arteta