Scoring the goal to earn us a point in the North London derby was Nacer Chadli’s fourth of the season in just five Premier League appearances. What’s more, the Belgian was asked to play yet another role on the team, showing his versatility.
After operating as a wide forward for Andre Villas-Boas and often as a central winger for Tim Sherwood, Chadli has taken up his second role for Mauricio Pochettino.
Nacer Chadli role one
Chadli had started out the season as part of our trio of attacking midfielders. He was playing from the left, than drifting infield as he not only switched positions with Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, but also combined with Danny Rose.
The left back’s movement was key to Chadli’s positioning. When Nacer was out wide, Rose would go on the under lap.
When Chadli drifted in field, Rose would get forward on the overlap and seek to get the ball and put it in to the box.
The role worked well for Chadli, who scored three times in his first four appearances, with two against QPR and another away at Sunderland.
Nacer Chadli role two
In the North London Derby, we got a look at Nacer Chadli playing in a highly specialist role. Mauricio Pochettino set up in a very deep-lying 4-4-2 system, which had two different facets.
The first was to leave no space between the back four and midfield to deny Arsenal any room between the lines. Capoue and Mason filled this zone, an area the Gunners like to get in to so that they can hurt teams.
The second was to have the front two playing much higher up as breakout threats on the counter. This meant conceding space between these front two and the midfield, an area Arsenal don’t really want but it was the only space we left.
This space drew Arsenal forwards towards it, creating an area in their half for our two strikers to run in to .
As a result, Nacer Chadli’s role became one of a pure counter attack runner. Someone who did not have to concern himself with the defensive part of the game, just merely to get forward quickly whenever we had the chance to break.
Chadli made zero tackles, zero interceptions and only cleared the ball three times in the game according to Whoscored. Yet he was the central figure in the match as he was the man we often looked for on the counter, as he just had to get out and run.
One of our early chances saw Erik Lamela fluff an easy pass towards Emmanuel Adebayor, but Chadli had streaked down the middle and was wide open. Lamela could’ve picked out Chadli, but chose Adebayor. Had Lamela completed his pass to the Togolese man, he could’ve easily slid the ball across the penalty area to Chadli for a tap in.
Later Christian Eriksen found Nacer Chadli leading the break, as we got numbers up with him this time. Chadli inexplicably cut in towards the two Arsenal centre backs and fluffed a back-heeled pass. Going on the outside and squaring the ball across the box seemed easier.
Then on half time he was found jetting forward again by Etienne Capoue, as he looked to run in-behind once more. Unfortunately he shanked his left-footed shot tamely past the post.
Chadli had got out and run to lead the break each time, something that his passes received during the match showed by the length of the lines to him. He received the ball just 15 times, but often these were played over distance to him on the run.
Leading the counter attack situations by streaking forward first and then looking for the ball manifested itself on our goal.
The ball was won high up, shortening the distance to goal, but as soon as Christian Eriksen tackled Mathieu Flamini, Nacer Chadli was off. He was running forward first, then concerning himself with receiving the ball once he was going beyond the Arsenal backline.
It was probably the shortest run Nacer Chadli had to make, but it was what he was doing all afternoon and apt that he got the go-ahead goal by doing it.
Nacer Chadli has great speed and also better acceleration than a lot of people give him credit for. That is why Mauricio Pochettino used him for this counter attack runner role, but also because he can maintain his top speed over distance, much like a 200 metre sprinter. Once Chadli builds to his top speed, he can stay there and that is what often wins a longer distance foot race, sprint stamina.
The two roles that we’ve seen him fill so far for Mauricio Pochettino have demonstrated the versatility of Nacer Chadli to adapt in the coach’s system. Whether Pochettino continues to give him this counter attack runner role away to the big sides will be fascinating to watch.