By Stewart Fisher

IT is a tactical dilemma which three Scotland managers now have tried and largely failed to come to terms with. Steve Clarke would simply love the chance to wrestle with it for himself.

When Kieran Tierney was omitted from the Scotland squad at the request of Arsenal yesterday for the forthcoming Euro 2020 double header against Cyprus and Kazakhstan, it robbed the 56-year-old from Saltcoats of the last available opportunity to re-integrate Arsenal’s £25m man into the national squad before March.

By the time this group next gets together – assuming he is in it – Clarke will have little more than a handful of training sessions to get his head around how to fit both he and captain Andy Robertson into his team ahead of those make-or-break Euro 2020 play-off ties.

Set to face either Bulgaria, Israel or Romania then either Serbia or Norway in a one-off semi-final or final with our first spot in a major finals for 22 years at stake, these matches in late March are as big as any Scotland have faced for a generation.

Whether it is using Tierney to correct our problem spots at right back or centre half, going three at the back, or play one in front of the other on the left, if the national team manager is to follow in the footsteps of Gordon Strachan, interim boss Malky Mackay and Alex McLeish and come up with a fresh tactical accommodation between the talents of Robertson and Tierney, it is an arrangement which will have to be forged in the heat of play-off battle.

Clarke was a model of diplomacy on the subject yesterday. Left to the player himself, who with six matches under his belt, was travelling out to Portugal to play Europa League football with Arsenal, he was adamant that Tierney would be reporting for duty.

He and everyone at the SFA would clearly hate to see the player himself punished by losing his place in the club’s next starting line-up if they invoked Fifa’s five-day rule as Northern Ireland did to Kyle Lafferty of Rangers recently.

But maybe such straightforward matters of international loyalty are a little out of date these days. Arsenal, who have pencilled in the international break to deal with an undisclosed injury issue thought to be unrelated to the hip complaint which dogged him at Parkhead, have flexed their muscles and the SFA have acceded to the request. It is they, the Gunners will argue, who pay his rather exorbitant wages.

Presumably - hopefully - there is a quid pro quo here, that Scotland WILL get the player’s services when we need them most, for the play-offs in March. But will Arsenal be any more amenable by the time March ticks round and the games only get bigger towards the business end of the English season? Will Unai Emery even still be there at that point?

It would be understandable if Clarke was becoming rather sensitive to all this stuff now, having had the conversation with West Ham’s Robert Snodgrass about making himself available for international duty, only for him to decide in pretty short order that it wasn’t for him anymore. Wary of further injury conflicts such as the one which occurred to Ryan Jack, he has tailored his sessions to focus more on tactical work rather than the basics.

“Obviously, I spoke to Robert last summer to see whether he would come back – and he did,” said Clarke. “But I knew his thoughts around the situation. Listen, he has retired. He phoned me the night before he put it out and I wished him all the best. He obviously has got to the stage of his career where he is thinking he wants to play more club football. I noticed he has played the last two games and scored two goals for West Ham. So he will be thinking he made the right decision.”

Everyone is adamant this isn’t the case with Tierney, but if certain players don’t want to play for their country, one other route for the manager – as plenty have before him – is to find those who do. At least he can mould them like he did Kilmarnock. “I want 25, 26, 27 players who, even if I am leaving them out of the squad, they are saying ‘good luck gaffer, I hope you all do well’. You want everyone on board.”