Tottenham Hotspur – Arsenal: Arsenal Lets Tottenham Escape In Multi-Faced Premier League Derby (1-1)
Arsenal created better chances than Tottenham, only to give away one genuine chance. Arsenal also missed a penalty kick at the very end, which would have won them the match. This North London Derby was more tense than good, but all-in-all, it made for fine viewing, as Tottenham managed to get a point despite being outplayed for over seventy minutes.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
Tottenham have switched between formations with four and five defenders in the past couple of months, continuing with the trend of the past couple of seasons. For this match, Mauricio Pochettino fielded a 3-4-1-2 shape, with Christian Eriksen playing in the hole behind Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. Harry Winks is currently out injured, which meant the granite double pivot Moussa Sissoko – Victor Wanyama was chosen to screen the defenders and Hugo Lloris.
Perhaps expecting a 4-4-2 diamond formation, Unai Emery fielded a quite classic 4-2-3-1 formation. Some of the choices of personnel were quite peculiar and unexpected. For the first time this season, Shkodran Mustafi was played as right back and not as central defender. Nominal starter Sead Kolašinac was left on the bench in favor of Nacho Monreal at left back.
Further up the field, the Özil conundrum continues. The German playmaker – objectively – is Arsenal’s most expensive player and – subjectively – is one of Arsenal’s best players, but cannot get a series of starts under Emery. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was also benched, as Alexandre Lacazette played as the striker. Aaron Ramsey played as the number ten, Alex Iwobi as left winger and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right.
The difference between these two teams was only four points going into the North London Derby, as Arsenal had won three in a row and Spurs lost two in a row.
Match prediction, standings and implications going into the weekend.
Two ways of pressing for Arsenal
In general, Arsenal had two ways of attempting to disturb Spurs’ buildup. Because Tottenham played with three central defenders and Arsenal acted with one striker, most of the times, Ramsey helped out Lacazette with pressing when the right or left central defender was played in. That way, the winger on the ball-side could eye his fullback and Arsenal’s wingers could eye their fullbacks and the winger on the other side could tuck inside.
The first way Arsenal tried to press, with Ramsey going through on a central defender and the midfielders covering up in his back if necessary. Ball displayed at the feet of Tottenham’s right central defender Toby Alderweireld.
Ramsey is an excellent organizer of the press, and with his cover shadow, When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. he made sure Moussa Sissoko or Victor Wanyama could not be played in most times. Whenever Tottenham did play them in, which happened very incidentally, either Granit Xhaka or Mattéo Guendouzi would aggressively press and make sure Spurs’ midfielders could not turn and distribute the ball forward.
Now, Spurs’ holding midfielders are not what you would call ball-playing midfielders, and it would have been interesting to see what Harry Winks (injured), Eriksen (rarely dropped deep to aid the buildup) or Moussa Dembélé (nowadays playing in China) could have added to Tottenham’s buildup.
The second way of pressing was a bit more risky. In this variety, Ramsey would man-mark a midfielder and a winger would press the central defender. Tottenham’s wing-backs were deliberately left open to be played in these situations, so they could be pressed by Arsenal’s fullbacks.
The second way of pressing, where a winger would go through on a central defender and a fullback would apply pressure to Tottenham’s wing-back. Ball displayed at the feet of Tottenham’s left central defender Jan Vertonghen.
A failed press by Arsenal leads to their opening goal
The game of football can be quite cruel and quite random, as was illustrated by the opening goal. One of Arsenal’s few failed pressing movements led to the opening goal… for Arsenal.
In the fifteenth minute, Iwobi attempted to press Alderweireld, similar to the image above, but then on the left side. His line of pressing left Trippier open however, and Monreal was not on time to close down the gap, which meant Spurs could progress the ball and begin an attack.
After Harry Kane was disposed in the box at the end of that attack, Xhaka punted the ball in the general direction of Lacazette. His marker Sánchez made a huge error and awkwardly headed the ball downwards, not clearing it, but presenting it for Lacazette, who perfectly set up Ramsey. The Welshman rounded the keeper, put the ball into the net and Arsenal were leading… thanks to a failed press. And thanks to Sánchez of course.
Give Spurs the ball and they will struggle
The two ways of pressing presented above were applied less often after Arsenal had acquired the lead. After that, Emery’s team often dropped back into a 4-4-1-1 formation and let Tottenham have the ball. Just like midweeks at Chelsea, Spurs have a very hard time to create chances in these situations, as they are experiencing an offensive slump.
One of Tottenham’s defining offensive features is Dele Alli constantly getting in behind. With him out, nobody really fulfills that role. Son has pace but he wanted the ball at his feet for most of the match, Eriksen is often the one that sets Alli up and Kane is the focal point of the attack himself. Add in some truly uninspiring fullbacks, Eriksen who is not in his best form and you are left with a team in dire need of attacking inspiration.
In the entire first half, Tottenham collected over 65 percent ball-possession, but managed only two shots from inside the box, and seven shots in total.
One of the few exciting moments for Spurs fans in the entire first half came in the 23rd minute, when Harry Kane headed in an excellent free-kick delivery by Eriksen, but was ruled offside. In the 43rd minute, Tottenham would create what would turn out to be their biggest chance, as Eriksen decided to run in behind and was fed by Kane. The Danish midfielder fluffed the chance, as Arsenal’s goalkeeper Bernd Leno produced a pretty decent save.
Both teams mix it up
At half-time, Emery introduced Lucas Torreira for Guendouzi, who had been okay but not great. Following their template from the first half, Arsenal continued to contain Spurs and got the first big chance of the second half when Monreal overlapped When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. on the left and set up Lacazette with a neat cross. The French striker could not finish and put the ball wide.
Once again, Tottenham’s first chance of the half came from a set piece, when Mustafi failed to head away one of Eriksen’s free-kicks and Toby Alderweireld took a volley from six or seven yards out, but could not convert. Emery quickly used his second substitution in the 55th minute when he brought on Aubameyang for Lacazette, not changing the formation. A few minutes later, Erik Lamela was brought on for Wanyama, as Eriksen slid into the double pivot and Lamela acted as the number ten.
Tottenham’s dire lack of a midfield could not be more clear from this passmap.
Even though Spurs now had a bit more fire power on the pitch, this still was quite an uninteresting match from both a tactical point of view as from an ‘excitement’ point of view. The ball was in the middle third If you divide the pitch in three horizontal zones, the middle third is the most central area. of the field a lot, Tottenham could not break through the red wall while they did have a nice counterpress going on, which cut off Arsenal’s counterattacks. There were some hard fouls – from both sides – which can be entertaining in a derby, but not the main reason to watch a game of football, is it?
Some much-needed derby controversy
The real spark was lit in the 73rd minute, when the referee decided to award a penalty to Tottenham for a supposed foul on Harry Kane, even though the England captain had been in an offside position when Eriksen struck the free-kick. Even though there is an argument to be made that the foul took place before Kane participated in the game. Tottenham got a penalty, and Kane, of course, converted.
Aside from Eriksen’s chance just before half-time, Arsenal were executing their game plan to a tee, but now had to adjust. Both sides seemingly wanted to score the winner, which resulted in arguably the most fun fifteen minutes of the game.
Spurs did so in a 4-4-2 formation with Llorente and Kane up top, Eriksen and Lamela from the sides and… Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko as holding midfielders. Do buy some midfielders in the upcoming transfer window, guys. Please.
Tottenham’s 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2 formation against Arsenal’s good ol’ 4-4-1-1 shape.
Despite Tottenham’s unorthodox personnel choices, the match stayed evenly balanced, but it could have been decided at the very end. In the 89th minute, another perfectly weighted through ball from Mkhitaryan was met by Aubameyang. Sánchez lightly tripped Arsenal’s striker over and the referee controversially pointed to the spot.
Aubameyang himself stood up to take it, and saw Lloris stop his weak effort. The rebound was picked up by Iwobi, who crossed it, but the ball was cleared by Vertonghen. The Belgian defender was far inside the penalty area when the penalty was taken. Does the Premier League need VAR? Probably.
For one reason or another, Pochettino saw it fit to declare Tottenham ‘were the better team, in all aspects’. A statement that is simply not true when analyzing the game.
In season-defining games against Arsenal and Chelsea, Spurs have played 180 minutes and created one clear-cut chance: the one Eriksen got, just before half-time. Anyone who has read the analysis of Tottenham’s defeat at Chelsea will recognize this takeaway, but instead of lambasting the mentality, perhaps Pochettino should start focusing on the football side of things, as only four points now separate Spurs from fifth place and missing out on Champions League football.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is fair to say Emery got his team selection right. All the peculiar choices – Mustafi, Mkhitaryan, Monreal – turned in fantastic games. This may serve as a stark reminder that sometimes, a manager that sees the players every day on the training pitch may have more insight into how they might function in a match than us keyboard warriors, who only get to see the matches.
Before the international break, Arsenal now face Rennes twice in Europa League action and host Manchester United – who have sneaked themselves back into fourth place – at home this Sunday. Exciting times ahead!
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