Mauricio Pochettino uses powerful midfield pressing to get at the centre backs as our Premier League clash agonisingly ends Arsenal 1-1 Spurs.
It’s not often you come away from the Emirates cursing two points dropped. That was the case as the North London Derby finished Arsenal 1-1 Spurs at their place for the second season. This time it was tougher to take as we had a spot on game plan and executed it almost perfectly.
Power midfield pressing
Our midfield was absolutely brilliant and their co-ordinated ball recovering was a thing of beauty to watch.
We’d looked in our Arsenal vs Spurs preview at how teams that have gone with powerful midfield trios have upset the Gunners’ ability to pass through the middle of the park. They get around Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla and stop them feeding the ball in to Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Joel Campbell, who float between the opposition lines.
Here, it wasn’t just the central three of Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele that were stopping Arsenal playing through. These three were at the centre of virtually everything and all of them were energised and in-sync. However, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen were also pinching in to congest and overrun the Arsenal midfield.
This saw Cazorla and Coquelin often with no time. They were tackled, lost control or had to send the ball over longer distances looking for Oliver Giroud.
On top of our midfield being dominant, Arsenal weren’t doing themselves any favours. They are not as fit as us and Arsene Wenger clearly didn’t want them to press and get caught chasing us around as we passed the ball between Eric Dier and our split centre backs.
Wenger didn’t want them to waste unnecessary energy and Arsenal were content to let us have the ball here and it allowed us to build easily from the back.
Another problem they had was with tucking in their wide players, Alexis Sanchez and Joel Campbell, towards their central midfield. Whether this was a tactic all along, as Wenger knows we like to overload the centre, or if it was a change after a few minutes was difficult to tell. The Arsenal boss was seeing his side overrun in the middle by our pressing and his central players needed help. However, with two fast runners on the outsides of their formation, Arsenal were also looking to get better starting positions from which to counter attack.
Getting down the sides of the centre backs
What our head coach was doing with our midfield served one purpose. Recover the ball quickly and with Arsenal in a vulnerable position. This was done so that we could get at their centre backs without them having cover or aid from their defensive midfielder or full backs.
They way Arsenal had set up played right in to our hands on Harry Kane’s opening goal. We recovered the ball and as we played it around at the back the Gunners had dropped off. What’s more, both Alexis Sanchez, and more importantly Joel Campbell, were caught inside trying to stop us playing the ball through here.
This meant that Campbell was too far away from Danny Rose who had spotted that Mathieu Debuchy was caught up high marking Erik Lamela. This in turn had pulled Per Mertesacker out from the middle to cover Christian Eriksen, leaving a huge corridor as Laurent Koscielny was trying to play offside against Harry Kane.
With no pressure on Danny Rose, Koscielny was caught out and Kane was in to coolly slot the ball past Petr Cech. A perfectly worked build-up and finish.
We’d looked at getting at their centre backs in open space in the Arsenal vs Spurs preview and here it had paid off handsomely. Both the positioning of Mertesacker and Koscielny was exposed on our goal, but would be again later on.
Changes and switches
Seeing his side being battered in the middle of the park, Arsene Wenger brought on the more combative Mathieu Flamini for Santi Cazorla at half time. This both helped and hindered Arsenal. It gave them a slight foothold back in the game, but also stifled their ability to get their free-flowing passing football going.
During the first half, Mauricio Pochettino made a similar change to the one we saw him make in the 2-1 victory over Anderlecht. As he did in that match, here he again started with Erik Lamela playing in from the right and Christian Eriksen the left. Mid-half he switched the two once more for several good reasons.
Firstly, Arsenal were attacking the majority of the time down the right through Campbell and Debuchy. This got his better defensive wide player in Lamela to help Danny Rose and the Arsenal pair became less of a factor.
Secondly, it got Christian Eriksen on to the same side as Alexis Sanchez. This looked risky to start with, but as Kyle Walker was handling the Chilean admirably what it did was expose Sanchez’s lack of tracking back. Wenger wanted to get Sanchez out on the counter attack by giving him little defensive responsibility and it allowed Eriksen the pockets of space he desires to work in.
Spurs in the inside right channel
With Christian Eriksen moving to the right side and Sanchez not tracking him, it opened this flank up for us to expose Arsenal’s centre backs once more. We created three excellent opportunities through the inside right channel with Eriksen at the heart of it.
The first one arrived not long after half time. Harry Kane came short to drag Laurent Koscielny with him and a quick one-two with Eriksen saw the Dane burst in to the space left by the central defender.
Mathieu Flamini was forced to race back on the cover. In throwing himself to try and stop Eriksen’s ball back across the goal, Flamini deflected it just past the far post.
The positioning of full back Nacho Monreal away from his centre back had allowed Eriksen to take advantage of Koscielny’s impetuous movement. Soon after and this space through the inside right channel between Monreal and Koscielny was open once again. Kyle Walker got forward and Eriksen saw his curling effort towards the far corner pushed away by Petr Cech, with Dele Alli unable to keep the rebound down.
The third chance was arguably the best; Eriksen was again in space on the right as he picked out Harry Kane’s run through this channel. Koscielny was once more late on his rotation over, but Kane pulled his finish wide.
Closing teams out has been a problem for us this season and it’s why we have drawn so many matches. Not taking our chances to get the second, or even a third, always gave Arsenal a glimmer of hope.
That flicker came in the form of crosses, something that has been the skeleton in our closet this season. I’ve often talked about how great Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are on the floor but weak aerially. This offered Arsenal a way back in to the match.
As the half wore on, Arsenal started to get forward more from their base of Flamini and Coquelin. The two had been overrun, but started to gain enough of a foothold in the middle of the park to get Arsenal moving the other way. Cross after cross started to come in and Arsenal’s height became a factor.
Olivier Giroud plonked a header off the top of the bar from one Ozil free kick; Koscielny forced a diving save from Hugo Lloris at another. Giroud then glanced a header past the post with the goal gaping, as he was wide open from another Ozil delivery, this time from a corner.
Arsenal were gaining these chances from Ozil’s set piece deliveries, so it was no surprise that the German would be the provider of the goal that got them back level. He was also aided in part by the withdrawal of Erik Lamela. The Argentinean was having an excellent game, playing with boundless energy as he sought to recover the ball and break forward.
Lamela had started to charge around though and throw himself in to challenges. He picked up a yellow card and continued to slide in unnecessarily. So, Mauricio Pochettino had no other choice but to change him for Son Heung-Min.
Had Lamela still been on the field, it was debatable whether Ozil would have been able to get so free on the ball. He and Danny Rose were operating well in tandem and Arsenal had only been a threat from set plays. When Son came on that changed and suddenly there were communication break downs, no more so than on the equalising goal.
Son was on Debuchy and Rose was covering Ozil as the ball went out wide, no danger so far.
However, as Debuchy laid the ball off and ran forward, Son tracked him, but so too did Rose. It didn’t look like they called a switch, so Rose should’ve pushed out on Ozil to stop him crossing. He didn’t and this left the German with time and space.
Ozil had already delivered at least three balls in to the box that had caused us trouble; he was now free to put in another.
We’d been caught out on the flank, but we were also overrun in the centre as Arsenal had 3v2. This left Kyle Walker with a decision to make as to whether to stop Giroud or stay on Kieran Gibbs. He got caught for a moment as he gauged the flight of the ball and this was just enough time to let Gibbs in-behind to finish.
Hugo tried his best to keep the bundled down ball out, but leaning backwards saw it spin up and over him as he tried to claw it out. Somehow from a position of dominance it was now Arsenal 1-1 Spurs and we were in with a chance of losing a game we had well under wraps.
Arsenal 1-1 Spurs overall
It was devastating to only take a point from a match that we had dominated a large part of, so much so that it ended up feeling like a loss. ‘It was a good 1-1’ Arsene Wenger smirked afterwards, which it was easy to tell translated to ‘we got away with one.’ And they did, we let them off the hook.
The power midfield trio of Dembele, Dier and Alli were awesome here and aided by the buzzing Eriksen and feisty Lamela had the midfield zone on lockdown. This allowed us to get at the Arsenal centre backs in space to expose Mertesacker’s lack of movement and Koscielny’s impetuosity.
We are eleven games unbeaten and to take that next step, as said after many draws this season, we need to press home our advantage and be clinical to close games out. We have a young team that doesn’t quite have this experience yet, but once they gain it, more of these draws will become wins and we will shoot higher up the table.
Final score: Arsenal 1-1 Spurs.