It’s the big one. Next up we travel to the Emirates for Arsenal vs Spurs. North London Derby bragging rights are up for grabs, as well as three valuable Premier League points.
Arsene Wenger’s side have had the upper hand recently. They won all three battles last season, whilst we haven’t won on their patch since Younes Kaboul completed a famous 3-2 comeback in November 2010.
So, what can we expect from Arsenal vs Spurs this time and just how do you go about beating the Gunners?
Arsenal full back zones
The key to getting amongst any Arsenal side is to attack the full back zones, particularly the left back. This area has always been rife for opposing teams that focus their forward play on taking advantage of the Gunners wanting to deploy their abundance of playmakers.
The right side of their team usually contains a natural wide player such as Theo Walcott or Alexis Sanchez. Over on the left, they deploy a drifting playmaker such as Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla. Whilst this gets an extra string-puller in to their line-up who can help play the short, neat through balls they thrive on, it also leaves the left back vulnerable.
Everton had success in attacking Nacho Monreal at Goodison Park, who was left exposed by Mesut Ozil drifting in-field and not tracking back earlier this season.
Seamus Coleman opened the scoring as he ran off the back of Monreal to head home Gareth Barry’s cross.
Then on the stroke of half time, Romelu Lukaku hurdled over the left back as he raced in to the space before setting up Steven Naismith to make it 2-0.
Man City also focused their attack on getting at the Arsenal left back. Once again Nacho Monreal was given little help by the drifting Mesut Ozil, as the Citizens deployed Jesus Navas on his side to take advantage.
The Spanish winger had a field day, racing in to the space and taking on Monreal as he looked to get the ball in to the box for City’s strikers.
Navas succeeded in setting up Sergio Aguero on the opening goal, whilst tormenting the Arsenal left back all game.
Getting at the left back is a must for the Tottenham tactics for Arsenal vs Spurs if we are going to get anything from this game.
Man City were focussed on getting the ball to Navas, but they also pressed Arsenal heavily in both full back zones.
James Milner is renowned for his defensive abilities. He was all over right back Mathieu Debuchy before he was moved in to central midfield. Over on the other side, Navas’ speed and quickness was being used to press Nacho Monreal.
This saw Man City regain the ball often out on the flanks, whereby they could then quickly get at the Arsenal full backs before they could recover.
This is important, as Arsene Wenger has really switched his tactics against us over the last season.
Before, Arsenal were intent on pressurising us and trying to control possession of the ball in our half. However, in our last three encounters, the Gooners have really dropped off and played heavily on the counter attack.
This was unsurprising at White Hart Lane, where maybe you’d expect counter attack as a possible tactic.
But they also did this at the Emirates, where you wouldn’t expect an Arsenal side to be out-bossed by 57%-43% in possession.
Pressing, but in the right areas, will be key to Arsenal vs Spurs this time. The Tottenham tactics may have to alter to draw the Gunners out if they sit back.
Mauricio Pochettino has struggled to solve the riddle of teams playing on the counter against us so far. West Brom last weekend being a prime example. Pressing in the full back areas, but dropping off elsewhere to draw Arsenal out, may be a viable solution.
Stopping Arsenal between the lines
The degree and whereabouts on the field you press has a knock-on effect to considering how to stop Arsenal getting between the lines. With their abundance of playmakers, and also Aaron Ramsey’s runs from deep, the Gooners live in these spaces in order to create chances.
Teams that have had success against them minimise the space to stop them playing their through balls. This is something we didn’t do in Arsenal vs Spurs contests last season, especially under Tim Sherwood, who gave this space away with his dislike for having a holding midfielder.
Here Serge Gnabry and Santi Cazorla drift between our lines of defence and midfield to spring the run of Theo Walcott.
As the match wore on, the problem got worse. This space opened up even more as we began to tire, leaving Cazorla, Gnabry and Walcott to run free.
Fortunately Mauricio Pochettino is an advocate of having a holding midfielder. Etienne Capoue, combined with his partner in the pivot, will have an important job to stop Arsenal running riot between the lines.
Pulling the centre backs around
Whilst the Gunners are vulnerable in the full back zones, they are also liable to concede when you pull their centre backs around.
Per Mertesacker does not like to be dragged out in to wide areas, nor does he want to be pulled too far up the field by forwards who drop off or move around. The German is tall and relatively strong, but doesn’t possess speed or lateral movement. His defensive partner, Laurent Koscielny, likes to come towards the ball, whilst Mertesacker prefers to sweep up behind him. They are effective in playing this way, but if you can force the two to switch roles, then you’re in business.
Last season, Liverpool did an excellent job at exposing this. The Reds’ movement, combined with quick passes to move the ball forwards, opened the Arsenal centre backs up.
Mauricio Pochettino’s system does focus on a centre forward who can come towards the ball, whilst others from the trio of advanced midfielders run past him. That is why our new coach has favoured Emmanuel Adebayor over Roberto Soldado so far this season in the Premier League.
Adebayor does have very good movement when he is in the mood and will have to realise what a key part he could play in opening up Arsenal’s centre backs. This would allow Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli to burst past him and latch on to any through balls played in to the space Adebayor creates.
Arsenal vs Spurs outlook
After two Premier League defeats in a row, an away trip to the Emirates for Arsenal vs Spurs is not the ideal fixture. It is winnable though.
Getting after the Arsenal full backs, especially the left back, is imperative on Saturday evening.
Mauricio Pochettino’s choice of player on our right side will be the area to look for. Does he play a natural wide man on this flank like Aaron Lennon? Or does he look to isolate the speed and dribbling of Erik Lamela 1v1 against the Arsenal left back?
Dragging their centre backs around is also a very good way to loosen their defence up and Emmanuel Adebayor will be vital to doing this.
The overriding factor in Arsenal vs Spurs may just well be whether Arsene Wenger plays on the counter attack again? He did this all three times against us last season and may well do so once more given our recent struggles in breaking down teams that sit back.
Arsenal vs Spurs prediction: Arsenal 1 Spurs 1.