Arsenal – Tottenham Hotspur 1:1
Minus that loss at the Allianz Arena, Arsenal had been playing well for a few weeks and were facing high expectations coming into this North London derby.They disappointed and were outclassed by their local rivals in the first half both defensively and in attack. They controlled possession well in the second half however were predictable in the final third.
Pochettino’s Spurs have quietly been having a pretty good season, playing some dynamic football with one of the youngest squads in Europe. They haven’t lost a Premier League match since their first day of the season away loss to Manchester United.
Both managers named predictable starting XIs in 4-2-3-1 formations.
Arsenal Poor in the Final Third
After having only one shot in the whole of the first half, Arsenal managed to get the ball in the final third frequently during the second half. Despite this, they only scored once and it wasn’t just Olivier Giroud’s atrocious finishing that was to blame for this.
In the first half, Arsenal’s weak possessional structure was to blame for their lack of fluency with the ball in Spurs’ half. Their attacking midfield trio of Sanchez, Ozil and Campbell had more-or-less roaming roles, especially Campbell who often dropped back to link up play and stayed quite narrow. It was strange to see Campbell playing an almost identical role to Ramsay’s usual role considering they are very different players. These roaming roles contributed to Arsenal’s lack of structure. Also, Arsenal’s players were too static off the ball and they missed Walcott’s forward runs that stretch the opposition. Nobody was trying to penetrate space in behind Spurs’ back four.
Spurs’ very compact two banks of four in the defensive phase forced Arsenal’s possession into the wide areas. In the second half, Arsenal gave up trying to break down Tottenham’s defence with the quick combination passing they are famous for and decided to play in cross after cross instead. Arsenal played 11 crosses in the last 15 minutes of the match. It’s important to note that Arsenal did score from a cross and did create a few good chances from these crosses however this strategy is not only boring and predictable but also a waste of the immensely talented creative players they have.
Pochettino’s Game-Changing Switch
The main problem with Spurs’ play in the first half-an-hour of the match was their lack of width on the left hand side. This was due to Eriksen being started as a left-winger although he has natural tendencies to drift inwards. This was also combined with the fact that despite having two very attack-minded fullbacks, Pochettino wasn’t very keen on his fullbacks holding positions in the final third, only moving into this area with late overlapping runs forward. Below are a couple of examples of Eriksen’s centrality making Spurs easy to defend against.
After around thirty minutes Pochettino rectified this by moving Eriksen to central attacking midfield and putting Lamela on the left while Alli switched to right midfield and Dembele dropped into a deeper role. This gave Spurs much more width and this change directly resulted in a goal just a few minutes after this change.
In the GIF below, Lamela is taking up his new position on the left while Eriksen is in the left halfspace he thrives in. Spurs actually find themselves in a good Juego de Posicion-like structure. This was purely situational however stresses the effectiveness of this sort of structure in terms of making a team difficult to cover space effectively against. Immediately we can see that Arsenal’s defensive block is much less horizontally and vertically compact. As the ball makes its way to Rose, Lamela moves wide and deeper, pulling Debuchy over giving space for Eriksen to run towards. Eriksen moves into this space which opens up the space between the centre-backs for Rose to play a ball through and Kane to finish clinically. Note how Spurs have two clear units here, six defensive players and four attacking. Having Dembele this deep means Rose is much harder to press, giving him time to find the long vertical pass to Kane. In general, Arsenal had no pressing intensity whatsoever and Spurs’ defenders had loads of time to find these long passes behind Arsenal’s medium defensive line.
Tottenham’s Effective Man-Orientated Pressing
Another reason Arsenal struggles in possession was Spurs’ fantastic tight man-orientated marking/pressing in all areas of the field. One man would go towards the ball while others stay very tight to the ball-players’ options. Other players would be slightly less tight holding shape and space.
This analysis briefly touched upon the three most tactically interesting pointers from this game, none of which reflected positively upon Arsenal. I felt Arsenal had lost their spark which was probably due to the hangover of their crippling defeat in Munich earlier that week. Arsenal did control possession well in stages however and good individual performances from Koscielny and Coquelin should be noted. Arsenal have only won 50% of their matches at home this season, which is possibly due to the fact opponents are happy to sit back and defend at The Emirates. Arsenal do struggle to break down a compact defence. This, combined with their unwillingness/inability to press is the reason I believe they are not tactically well rounded enough to sustain a thirty-eight match campaign that would deliver the league title.
Tottenham, on the other hand, will be very happy with their performance. They created their fair share of chances and attacked Arsenal’s weak points effectively, especially making use of Arsenal’s lack of pressing. Spurs also defended very well however do lack pace on the counter attack, causing them to sometimes struggle in attacking transition. If they continue to play in this manner, a top-four place is an ambitious but realistic target for them this season.