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 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.
Manchester City also looked to use speed to expose the spaces that Bellerin and Monreal leave.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the FA Cup Semi-Final, Manchester City also deployed a central trio to stop Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey from buzzing around in here.
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.