Arsenal – Tottenham Hotspur: Positive Spurs Earn A Point (2-2)

Refusing to deviate from their playing style, Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham Hotspur side had the majority of possession in the first half of this game, showing bravery against Arsenal’s pressing. Arsenal were still able to create chances though, and Spurs had to show character to come from behind twice to earn a draw.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

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Arsenal made their return to Champions League football in midweek with a dominant win over PSV, but now faced a bigger test in the form of a North London Derby. Mikel Arteta’s side lined up in a 4-3-3 system, with a back four of Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel, and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Delcan Rice was joined in midfield by Martin Ødegaard and Fábio Vieira, while up front was the trio of Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, and Gabriel Jesus.

Tottenham Hotspur have found themselves in an upbeat mood in the early weeks of the season thanks to the impact of new coach Ange Postecoglou. They lined up in a 4-3-3 shape here, with Pedro Porro, Cristian Romero, Micky van de Ven, and Destiny Udogie in the back four. Yves Bissouma anchored the midfield alongside Pape Matar Sarr and James Maddison. Up front, Son Heung-min was flanked by Dejan Kulusevski and Brennan Johnson.

Spurs’ brave buildup

Postecoglou is a coach who demands that his teams be fearless in possession, willing and able to retain the ball in tight situations close to their own goal. This approach helped Spurs to have the majority of possession in the first half of this game, although it also led to a couple of chances conceded from mistakes on the ball.

Arsenal would seek to press high against the Spurs buildup. Ødegaard would often join Nketiah in pressing the Spurs center-backs, while Vieira would push forward to restrict Bissouma’s space in the number six zone for Spurs.

The wingers would then remain slightly deeper and narrower, especially as Spurs’ fullbacks often moved into midfield. On the right for example, Porro and Sarr would sometimes rotate, with Porro moving into midfield and Sarr drifting wide into the fullback space vacated by Porro.

Spurs seemed to relish the chance to try and play through Arsenal’s pressing in these situations. 

This right side was where Spurs did a lot of their ball circulation, with the diamond of Romero, Bissouma, Porro, and Sarr all seeing plenty of the ball against Arsenal’s pressure. Meanwhile, Maddison on the left of Spurs’ midfield three tended to play a bit higher than Sarr, although with license to roam across the pitch.

Arsenal left Rice to cover the large spaces left in midfield as Vieira and Ødegaard went to press. His athleticism became useful in these situations, as well as in counterpressing when Spurs tried to transition quickly.

Although Spurs had plenty of the ball, this was mostly in their own half. Arsenal’s pressing was good enough to restrict Spurs to relatively little in attack for much of the half, while Arsenal found most of their own best attacks in transition.

An even game

It was a counter-attack which had put Arsenal ahead in the first half, as Saka’s shot was deflected in by Romero. Saka in general posed difficulties for Udogie who had received an early booking, and Arsenal’s most dangerous attacks often came through Saka. Spurs were able to equalize through Son before half time though, meaning the teams went in level at half-time.

Arteta made two substitutes to begin the second half. Rice had to be removed after picking up a knock, meaning Jorginho replaced him. Vieira was also taken off, with Kai Havertz coming into the midfield instead.

Arsenal were able to take the lead early in the second half through Saka’s penalty. However, from the resulting restart, Spurs made it 2-2 immediately as Jorginho’s mistake on the ball was pounced upon by Maddison, who assisted Son for the second time in the game.

The possession share in the second half was more balanced, as Arsenal began having more spells on the ball. Arsenal were generally in their usual 3-2-4-1 structure with Zinchenko inverting from the left, although there was a slight deviation away from this for a spell in the second half, where Zinchenko stayed wider and it was instead Ødegaard who was dropping in alongside Jorginho to help circulate the ball.

Spurs defensive scheme managed to restrict Arsenal’s creativity for much of the second half. 

Spurs’ pressing shape loosely started from a 4-3-3 formation, although they could also fall into a 4-2-3-1 shape. This was mostly determined by Sarr’s choices. Where possible, Sarr would press forward alongside Maddison, whereby Maddison would be marking Jorginho while Sarr marked Zinchenko.

However, Sarr also needed to be conscious of the space behind him which was occupied by Havertz, while Bissouma’s ability to cover this space was sometimes limited when Ødegaard was in the right halfspace.

Sarr therefore had to be diligent about when to jump forward and when to slot in alongside Bissouma and leave Maddison as the number ten. The Senegalese midfielder generally did this extremely well, and was key to the functioning of Spurs’ defensive system.

Postecoglou’s first substitution of the game saw Manor Solomon replacing Johnson, while Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Richarlison would later replace Maddison and Son. Arteta meanwhile brought on Reece Nelson for Gabriel Jesus, and Emile Smith Rowe made a late cameo in place of Saka.

Neither team really gained strong momentum for most of the second half, with both teams unable to create any great chances after the score became 2-2. Spurs were forced to do some deeper defending very late on in stoppage time, but overall were deserving of their point.


Arsenal often dominate possession at home, but ended up playing a slightly different game here as they instead looked for transition attacks in the first half against Spurs’ possession play. In the second half they took more of the ball but struggled to find a creative spark, still yet to quite replicate the flowing attacking displays of last season in the Premier League.

Spurs showed good character to leave with a draw after going behind twice. Their bravery and fluidity in possession makes them an enjoyable team to watch, and Postecoglou’s project only seems to be gaining momentum.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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