Harry Kane scores a goal during Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League.

Spurs vs Arsenal: tactical scouting report

Ahead of Spurs vs Arsenal in the North London Derby we take a look at the tactical weaknesses of Arsene Wenger’s team.

The second North London Derby of the season has taken on paramount importance. Spurs are after the Premier League title. Arsenal are grappling with the increasingly real possibility of missing out on Champions League qualification. Each team has the opportunity to derail the other’s chances. Ahead of Spurs vs Arsenal we take a look at the tactical weaknesses of Arsene Wenger’s team.

Weakness: full back zones

Whatever changes Arsene Wenger has made to his team, the Arsenal manager has been dramatically let down by his full backs. Nacho Monreal’s errant positioning has been exposed on the left. Hector Bellerin’s form has fallen off a cliff on the right.

Arsenal’s opponents have been taking advantage of the pair when they have been in a back four, but also in their newly created back three.

Crystal Palace and Manchester City have exposed the pair in recent Premier League games as part of a four.

Crystal Palace went with fairly rudimentary tactics to get at the pair in their recent 3-0 win. The Eagles continually hit their wide players, Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend, early in their attack.

Both players are rapid and can travel with the ball at their feet. Therefore, Zaha and Townsend simply ran off and behind the Arsenal full backs to create chances for players arriving in the middle.

Crystal Palace created chances and goals from wide indicating the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Crystal Palace created chances and goals from wide.

Crystal Palace getting behind the Arsenal full backs consequently exposed the space that often appears between Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi in the middle. The centre backs were too far apart as Zaha got beyond Monreal to square for Townsend arriving in to that space.

Zaha beats Monreal and squares for Townsend to score ahead of Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League.

Zaha beats Monreal and squares for Townsend to score.

Manchester City also looked to use speed to expose the spaces that Bellerin and Monreal leave.

Man City created chances from wide ahead of Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League.

Man City created chances from wide.

The Citizens deployed Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling as wide forwards in their 2-2 draw in the Premier League at the Emirates.

Man City opened the scoring as Leroy Sane got on the wrong side of Hector Bellerin and left him trailing. What’s more, Bellerin wasn’t helped by Mustafi’s ill-advised charge in to midfield to try and close down.

Sane beats right back Bellerin to score indicating the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League at White Hart Lane, London.

Sane beats right back Bellerin to score.

Sergio Aguero added a second when Nacho Monreal was neatly drawn out. As a result, David Silva could neatly slide the ball to Aguero running behind him.

Silva and Aguero beat left back Nacho Monreal indicating the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Silva and Aguero beat left back Nacho Monreal.

Weakness: back three positioning

Defeat at Crystal Palace has consequently seen Arsene Wenger switch to a back three. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has come in as the right wingback. However, the problems in wide areas, in spite of this change, have continued.

Space is often down the sides of three centre backs that aren’t happy at being drawn in to wide areas. Arsenal’s centre backs are far from content to cover outside of the centre of the pitch. As a result, they often get caught too narrow.

Middlesbrough, the Premier League’s lowest scorers and chance creators, managed to expose this, attack Arsenal down the flanks and score a goal.

Middlesbrough created chances from wide areas ahead of Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League.

Middlesbrough created chances from wide areas.

The FA Cup Semi-Final at the weekend also saw Manchester City probe the spaces down the sides of Arsenal’s back three. The issue, as it was at Middlesbrough, continued with the back three wanting to play narrow. As a result, the Arsenal centre backs got separated from their wingbacks in the defensive phase. Man City could therefore slide the ball through the channel that appeared.

Man City exploit space between the wing and centre back indicating the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League at White Hart Lane, London.

Man City exploit space between the wing and centre back.

Manchester City had a perfectly good goal ruled out by doing this. Kevin de Bruyne fed Leroy Sane through the channel created between wingback and centre back. Sane pulled the ball back for Sergio Aguero to net, but it was wrongly called out of play.

Weakness: back three on the ball

Arsenal’s back three not only has the problem of not wanting to be drawn out to defend in wide areas. The centre backs also look out of sync when in possession. The trio often doesn’t spread wide enough, offer good passing angles or look comfortable on the ball.

What Arsenal also misses is a long-range distributor. Chelsea and Spurs have success running this system as they have at least one centre back that can deliver a long-range pass. Chelsea have David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta. Spurs have Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen who are all comfortable with playing the longer ball.

A player that can switch the ball over distance is vital. He can build attacks by rapidly changing the angle or location of them in one movement. He can also help evade a pressing team by simply bypassing them. Arsenal doesn’t have this player and consequently it makes their three centre backs vulnerable to pressing and cheap turnovers.

The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal should focus on attacking the spaces beyond the full backs or wingbacks should Wenger deploy this system. If the Arsenal manager does continue with his back three, closing them down rapidly to test their ability on the ball, spacing and passing angles is imperative.

Weakness: set pieces

Arsenal’s zonal defending has often seen them in trouble. In recent weeks it has been scrutinised more than ever due to several major lapses.

This season’s set piece kings, West Brom, really took advantage as they scored two goals from corners. Craig Dawson twice found the soft spot in the Arsenal zone to head home with a mass of players at the near post on each occasion.

Dawson defeats the Gunners' zonal marking ahead of Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League.

Dawson defeats the Gunners’ zonal marking.

In their last Premier League match, Middlesbrough were unfortunate not to score from one of their set pieces. Daniel Ayala had their best chance as he somehow fluffed his lines from a header just yards from goal. Alvaro Negredo also had his head in his hands after missing an equally good opportunity.

What’s more, in the FA Cup Semi-Final last weekend, Fernandinho also stole in unmarked to plant a header off Petr Cech’s bar.

After a good season from dead ball situations last term, Spurs have declined this. However, we have seen a recent spate of set piece goals. Therefore, chances to continue that trend are good.

Strength: play between the lines

Arsenal are renowned for their ability to get players between the opposition lines of defence and midfield. Once in this position, the Gunners can attack with through balls or create short cut back and pull backs from the by-line.

Any team that wants to do well against Arsenal has to defend this space. Crystal Palace did a very good job in their recent 3-0 win. The Eagles played their back four narrow with Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend dropping back to help defend out wide. In the centre, Palace employed a trio of Cabaye, Milivojevic and Puncheon to screen their narrow back four and thus keep Arsenal out of this zone. It was highly effective.

Palace screened their narrow back 4 with 3 players indicating the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League.

Palace screened their narrow back 4 with 3 players.

In the FA Cup Semi-Final, Manchester City also deployed a central trio to stop Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey from buzzing around in here.

Man City midfield trio screens the back four indicating the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal in the Premier League at White Hart Lane, London.

Man City midfield trio screens the back four.

Whatever Tottenham does, we must keep the space between the lines closed off. Power houses Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama have been superb at the base of our midfield all season. Patrolling this zone will be integral to the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal once again.

Spurs vs Arsenal outlook

Arsenal often saves their best for the North London Derby and a chance to scupper Spurs’ seasonal ambitions. This match takes on added significance with the Gunners’ hopes of a top four finish also hanging by a thread.

The game will be won by our play in wide areas to attack Arsenal’s vulnerable full backs. It will be lost if we leave space between our lines of defence and midfield.

Spurs vs Arsenal prediction: Spurs 2-1 Arsenal.

Betfair are going all out on the North London Derby by offering Spurs to win at 8/1 for new account sign ups only via this link.

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21 Responses to Spurs vs Arsenal: tactical scouting report

  1. Toby4eva 29th April 2017 at 4:37 am #

    Thanks Mark

    I’m looking forward to this game more than any game in a very long time – and I’m sure I’m not alone!

    I’m intrigued as to how both teams will line up.

    Woolwich have had some success with their 3-4-3 of late – so I’m hoping Wenger sticks with it as it will definitely allow us to bomb on out wide and create plenty of chances.

    (Note for bettIng types out there – on current form backing Spurs to win the most corners looks a snip at any price. Or more simply, just back Mark’s final score prediction!).

    So on that basis I’m thinking Trips as the RWB, but Walkers pace and defensive attributes can’t be ignored in such a big game.

    Could they both be accommodated?

    Not such a big gamble I’d suggest, but that means the Gaffer starting with the 4-2-3-1.

    I note that this season we concede about the same amount of goals with either system, but score a lot more per game with three centre backs. Those numbers are inflated with soft victories against mid-table teams though I’d suggest.

    So knowing that 4-2-3-1 is a solid defensive play, it may well be the way to start given that they will likely sit deep and look to counter.

    I’m going out on a limb and suggesting a starting line up of…






    Given that the lads we’ll be pumped and the Lane will be pulsing, this very attacking line up can spring into action from the off and hurt them early. We can really focus our attack down the right with Walker and Trips alternating to keep them guessing.

    We can close down Oxlade-Chamberlain (perhaps their biggest threat) on the opposite flank with Eriksen and Dembele working in tandem. Eriksen’s work rate is phenomenal and he is the man for the job.

    If we can get early goal or two then obviously Victor enters the fray, or if it’s locked up then Sonny and Vinnie are options.

    I realise this is a bit “out there”, but I think Poch may have tried the Walker/Trips cameo the other night for a reason.

    I could be very wrong and the boss my want to start conservatively so as not to concede by being too “gung-ho”.

    Because as Mark says, control of midfield and closing down supply to Ozil and Sanchez will be vital.

    Be very interested in the thoughts of others as to how we should form up.

    Massive game.

    Come on the Toffees – and as always….


    • anotherwisemonkey 29th April 2017 at 12:05 pm #

      Great ideas here, Toby4eva. I suspect if we start in 4-2-3-1, Poch will start Son on the left, but Trippier on the right sounds good, too. The great thing is that with Dier, we’re capable of switching from 3 to 4 at the back mid-match.

      If Dembele is not fit to start, would you start Wanyama, or drop Eriksen deeper, where he did an excellent job against Palace? If Dembele is out, we could conceivably play Son, Dele and Trips behind Kane.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2017 at 3:36 pm #

        Dembele is our key player. When he’s not in the lineup we really miss him as he’s pretty much irreplaceable. What ever happens with Dembele, Wanyama starts for me and then if Dembele can’t start i’d go with Sissoko. Strength, power and plenty of ball recovery skill is needed against Arsenal in our defensive midfield to keep them from playing between the lines and i’d be keen to keep it that way.

        My lineup if Dembele can’t play would be:

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2017 at 3:27 pm #

      I think Wenger’s formation will be the first big thing Poch will look at and if Koscielny isn’t playing then we have to go all out attack on them. They are incredibly brittle when he’s not in the back line.

      Trippier’s inclusion is an interesting one. I was in two minds as to whether Poch put him on at Palace just to waste time or if it was really a trial of something? I’m not sure he’ll use it from the start here as it would mean dropping other more natural attacking players to accomodate him. I can see Trippier contesting Walker for a starting spot as a wingback, but if Poch goes 4-2-3-1 then Walker is the choice due to his speed and better defensive skills.

      I’m more in preference for the back three in this one as i think it gets us down the sides of Arsenal better. The only qustion is does Poch use Son or Davies at left wingback? This is not only for attack, but also to defend Oxlade-Chamberlain, who, as you say, is playing well right now. Davies is the better defender, but Son is much faster.

      Lots of questions and permutations for Poch to answer and consider going in to this one. We may well see lots more tinkering once again.

  2. Toby4eva 29th April 2017 at 2:49 pm #


    Dier is a key player in our squad – as Mark quite correctly mentioned recently.

    I love big Vic and would love to see him boss here – but I’m sussing that he has gone off the boil.

    He looked like he he was carrying an injury in the semi (short passes – not much running) and pulled off at half time at Selhurst?

    Hope I’m wrong – as I would love to see him tearing Woolwich apart in Central positions.

    The Gaffer will need to deliver here!


    I love

  3. Toby4eva 29th April 2017 at 4:44 pm #


    Your faithful are trembling!!!!!!





    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2017 at 11:30 pm #

      I’ve bashed Sissoko as much as anyone, but when he’s featured in central midfield he’s done alright, much better than when out wide. When on the wing he has to be much more aggressive and attacking, he’s struggled. In the middle of the park he only has to win the ball and distribute it. Much easier and he’s looked more assured there. Calculated gamble.

  4. Matt 29th April 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    I think we need to find a place for Son to start, I think his direct running makes a big difference to us. So I’d plump for Son over Davies which I say with a heavy heart because I like Davies. But I think we simply have better players than Arsenal and I think if we match attack with attack we will win.

    • anotherwisemonkey 29th April 2017 at 8:56 pm #

      We can play Son and Davies in the same team if we go four at the back. Son was found out at wing back at Wembley and I wouldn’t try it again against Ox. The wing back position forces Son to play to his weaknesses, not his strengths.

      Mark, I agree with the fella above that Sissoko is not the man for this job. He has the equipment to do it, but has yet to deliver in a Spurs shirt and now is not the time to gamble.


      Walker Alderweireld Vertonghen Davies

      Wanyama Dembele/ Dier (fitness dependent)

      Eriksen Dele Son


      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2017 at 11:34 pm #

        Calculated gamble. Not quite as risky ;)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2017 at 11:25 pm #

      I like the gamble Matt and I hope Son has learned from last weekend. Dier did have some shockers early on during his first games as a defensive midfielder, so it may pan out for Son.

  5. anotherwisemonkey 29th April 2017 at 8:58 pm #

    Having said all that, I favour three at the back with the obvious, strongest line-up if everyone is fit.

  6. Daudi 29th April 2017 at 10:05 pm #

    Thanks Mark.

    Now…. seeing that our formation will depend on who is fit or not, it might get interesting with what Poch has been trying in the past few weeks, Son left back, Eriksen a deep lying 8…. But my Bet is that we start with a back three, then some in game change of formations..
    A back four is tempting just to gate more pace up top with Son, a back three has more stability Eriksen with more working space to provide for the deadly duo in front of him. Don’t be surprised fellow Spurs fans to see both formations used in this game depending on how the Woolwich set up.
    Sorry Mark, no way Sissoko starts. :)
    If it comes to pass that he starts, I’ll be doing faces all game.. am practicing just in case. ;/

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2017 at 11:32 pm #

      lol I hope your practice is not needed. However, as said to Toby4eva above, I think Sissoko has looked better when played in the middle for us. I’d gamble on using him there if Dembele is unable to play.

  7. Paulo 30th April 2017 at 9:33 am #

    Looking forward to it. Can’t remember a north London derby where a draw will feel like a defeat…. 3:30.. Line up announced and we find out if Dembele is fit…. COYS

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th April 2017 at 10:25 am #

      Yes, big pressure again today. I wonder how the score from the Everton – Chelsea game will affect the match, as the players will probably know the result just before kick off. Could affect the psyche!

  8. Matt 30th April 2017 at 10:44 am #

    Really good point Mark. I think it will affect it. It’s hard to imagine that we won’t be that but more up for it is Chelsea have dropped points. Hopefully a Chelsea win won’t lead to to a poor or niggly performance.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th April 2017 at 11:01 pm #

      Guess we were worrying about nothing ;) great performance by the whole team. Swept Arsenal off the park!

  9. Toby4eva 1st May 2017 at 3:38 am #

    Absolutely Mark!

    I hope all your readers and supporters celebrated St Woolwich day in style!


  10. Matt 1st May 2017 at 11:18 am #

    Well I certainly did Toby! And yes Mark , to say we were worrying about nothing is an understatement. I admit I under estimated the steel in this team, they simply brushed Arsenal aside. So many excellent performances, but I have to say, Wanyama seems to just get better and better. Seems him and Dier can play together! am really looking forward to your post match analysis Mark.

  11. Toby4eva 1st May 2017 at 3:25 pm #

    Great stuff Matt!

    Agree big Vic was a star in this game, I thought he was showing signs of fatigue or injury of late, but he stamped himself on this game.

    Along with Dier, Moose, Eriksen and Winks we have five genuine prospects to cover the two middle of the park roles.

    In front of the best centre back pairing and four wing backs in the league, it’s no accident we have only conceded 22 in 34.

    Davies is growing in confidence and stature and Trips has stamped himself on the team as well.

    You are right.

    This team has more steel than Sheffield.

    Could easily have been 4 or 5 blot.