Arsenal 1 Spurs 0: long ball, counter attacks and control of Cazorla

The Gunners sat back, played on the counter and were able to get in-behind our high line, as it finished Arsenal 1 Spurs 0 at the Emirates.

Arsenal set up and tactics

Arsene Wenger lined his side up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, but with a few interesting points.

Firstly, after being torched by attackers getting behind their defence at the Lane last season and also this term by Aston Villa, Arsenal sat extremely deep. They were content to draw us out and play on the counter in order to expose our high line.

Second was Santi Cazorla’s positioning throughout the match. Prior to the game in the Tottenham tactics, I speculated whether Wenger would use the Spaniard on the left in order to drift inside or Aaron Ramsey to provide extra defensive cover. Wenger went with Cazorla and he frequently moved in to the middle to create 4v3 situations.

Thirdly was the long ball game. This became apparent very early with both Cazorla and the defenders looking long to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman was used as a hold-up man to move the ball quickly from back-to-front, very un-Arsenal like given they’re usually a possession-based side.

Tottenham set-up and tactics

Andre Villas-Boas went 4-3-3 with an offset midfield of Etienne Capoue lying deep, screening the defence. Moussa Dembele played a shuttling role between Capoue and Paulinho in the advanced position.

These three were both a help and a hindrance during the match. On the one hand they allowed us to dominate possession – by 57% to 43%, which would usually be the other way around when Arsenal are at home. On the other, they lacked the ability to get forward and support Roberto Soldado in attack.

Arsenal were defending deep and playing on the counter, which kept the ball in front of them. Capoue, Dembele and Paulinho held the ball well, but it spent a great amount of time going sideways in the middle third of the pitch.


A lot of the ball in the middle third, Arsenal 1 Spurs 0.

The tactic we’ve seen from Spurs for much of this season (and some of last) is to get the ball to a runner in-behind the defence, especially in the full back areas. This then allows a short cut back or cross to be played. With Arsenal sat so deep, this was rarely possible, but our best chance of the first half arrived this way.

Andros Townsend played the ball through to Kyle Walker on the overlap. Roberto Soldado has great movement in the box and here he pulled brilliantly away from Per Mertesacker. Fortunately for the German, his wide frame blocked Soldado’s first time shot.


Kyle Walker gets a pass in-behind and squares for Soldado.

This was really the best it got. For much of the match the ball was being moved in to the wide areas, but we were unable to get men in-behind due to Arsenal being sat so deep. Instead, both Chadli and Townsend resorted to cutting inside and shooting from range, rather than looking for a through pass.

Arsenal long ball

Arsenal are usually a possession-based side, but their use of the long ball here to Giroud was quite noticeable.

Not only was the Frenchman used as a target for long balls from the back by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to hold up the play. He was also the focus for several long passes from Cazorla and the defenders. They were either looking to move the ball forward quickly on the counter or spring him over the top.


Olivier Giroud passes received, Arsenal 1 Spurs 0.

Cazorla put a long, guided pass on to Giroud’s head for an effort at goal, as he ran in-behind early on to signal the danger.

Santi Cazorla

Santi Cazorla was the difference in this match. Spurs had a lot of the ball in the midfield zone, but by intelligently moving inside he was creating 4v3 situations when Arsenal had possession.

This allowed Cazorla to pick his passes through our defence, which saw Hugo Lloris have to sweep up several times. His tackle on Theo Walcott when through was exceptional, as was his anticipation to slide out and gather the ball off the toes of the same player in the second half.

Cazorla’s calculated inside movement was a persistent menace to our midfield all game, as were his through passes.


Santi Cazorla passes played, Arsenal 1 Spurs 0.

The Spaniard also started the move to create their goal. His pass to Aaron Ramsey, who subsequently moved it to Rosicky, saw the Czech spring Theo Walcott in behind.

I looked in the Tottenham tactics at how Olivier Giroud makes near post runs to score from low crosses and squared balls and here he finished the move in this way.

Jan Vertonghen has taken some criticism for not following Walcott in, but Michael Dawson should have been staying in line, as everything was developing in front of him.


Dawson gets caught too deep whilst looking along the line.

Daws has been so assured for much of last season, proving many of the doubters wrong. His play yesterday, which included an error in the middle of the park that almost gifted Arsenal a second, looked like one of a player under pressure for his place from both Chiriches and Kaboul.


Chasing the game, Andre Villas-Boas made an attacking change to bring on Jermain Defoe and go 4-4-2. Whilst this relinquished some control in central midfield by having one less man, it did offer some more threat going forward against an Arsenal side sat so deep. Defoe’s deflected effort was the closest we came to getting one past Szczesny

Usually the ‘throw on another striker approach’ is very un-AVB-like, as he will opt to bring on a player in a deeper role to increase the tempo of the ball through midfield. Last season, both Huddlestone and Holtby were used often like this, so to see Lewis remain on the bench was a bit strange from AVB in this situation.

Arsene Wenger’s use of substitutes indicated he knew what he was doing and wanted to shut the game down.

The book on how to stop Spurs reads: “sit deep allowing no space in-behind and defend the wide areas.” And that’s exactly what the Wenger did.

He brought on two full backs to operate in front of two full backs, thus having four natural defenders in the wide zones and six on the pitch in total. Monreal played in front of Gibbs and Sagna just ahead of Jenkinson, to close the tandems of Chadli/Rose and Lamela/Walker down.

Arsenal 1 Spurs 0 conclusions

Andre Villas-Boas admitted that it was tough to break Arsenal down.

“It’s very fine margins. Arsenal did well because they closed the spaces down and in the end, it was difficult for us to break through. I think bearing in mind the way we finished, we should have got something out of the game.”

Arsene Wenger knew the importance of this game. Not just as a fiercely contested derby, but also to his and their club’s standing after their lack of transfer activity.

As a result, he played it extremely well tactically.

After getting burned by opponents getting in-behind their defence, Arsenal sat deep. This also had the effect of drawing us out and allowed them to play quite effectively on the counter.

Santi Cazorla drifting inside from the left to create 4v3 situations supplemented this. Last season Arsenal had control of the possession in both derbies by having an extra man in midfield. Here, Wenger knew we’d have three in the middle, so brought a fourth. He did relinquish possession this time, but Arsenal made more of the ball and created the better chances due to Cazorla’s calculated movement and through passes.

Overall, Arsenal looked like a team that has played together for a while, Spurs still need time to gel.

Final score: Arsenal 1 Spurs 0.

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15 Responses to Arsenal 1 Spurs 0: long ball, counter attacks and control of Cazorla

  1. Messy 2nd September 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Are you sure you support Spurs?

    By a long way the best, most balanced & accurate review of the match & the the deciding factors that I have all day (from both sets of fans).

    So impressed I will decline the opportunity to make any gloaty remark

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      Haha, check the website name.

  2. StrollerAFC 2nd September 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Congratulations on such a balanced analysis of the game. Both sets of fans would do well to read this instead of the usual ya-boo stuff posted on the internet. Your final comment was spot on. A balanced group of players who are used to each other vs a team made up of recently purchased individuals and recalled loanees. Pity all of the so-called pundits didn’t pick this up before the game, but instead were dazzled by the difference in transfer activity as being the decisive factor in the outcome.

  3. goonz and roses 2nd September 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    I agree, Messy, this is an awesome and creative review .. Never knew there are spurs fans with this much class ..

    No gloating from here too .. On paper you guys have a good team, whether personalities and styles gel and some understanding/togetherness develops is the big question. At least you are now without potentially distabilizing factors like Adebayo and Gallas ..

  4. rs691919 2nd September 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Mark, your write ups are incredible. But as much as Spurs need to gel, AVB’s tactic seem stubborn. Two inverted wingers cutting in with overlapping fullback runs against a team sitting back??? Why not bring Lamela in for Chadli and put Townsend on the left? Then Holtby or Sig to try to open up the middle and link with Soldado. Frustrated.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2013 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks. I wouldn’t say AVB is tactically stubborn, i have no problem with playing inverted players, 4-3-3 is played with wide forwards, not wingers. We just needed some more creative passing in the final third.

      • rs691919 2nd September 2013 at 7:18 pm #

        I think I would prefer a 4-2-3-1 with Eriksen at the #10, Lamela and Chadli/Townsend on the wings, Dembele/Sandro and Paulinho at the double pivot. I was pretty disappointed with the lack of adjustment yesterday as the game went on and it was clear what Arsenal were doing.

  5. yids :) 2nd September 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    i think we beat arsenal playing a similar way to how they did yesterday a few years back during the season when we qualified for the CL.

    No shame in winning in that manner. more than one way to skin a cat.

    if someone offered me a 0-1 win but we had to defend for our lives and just boot it long playing counter attack I’d take it all day!

    We have to see it as a complement and move on quicks. we the demon squad we have I can see Spurs easily going on a 10 game winning run here and there and that’s what its gona take to get CL.

    Shame there aren’t 6 spots instead of 4 and shame its next season and not this season where the winners of the Europa League qualify for the Champions League.

    Bring on the return fixture at The Lane…. I sense a 5-2 to Tottenham :D

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2013 at 6:33 pm #

      I think in winning yesterday actually masked a lot of problems Arsenal haven’t answered as of yet in this transfer window. It’s ok to win 1-0 and defend for your lives against Madrid, Barca or Bayern if you can’t match-up with them, but if you don’t have a long term strategy and target players to address your weaknesses then you’re in trouble. Spurs have done that and once the team has gelled we’ll be much better, yesterday it looked as if the team had only just met.

  6. yids :) 2nd September 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    we also need to find another demonic striker before midnight and pay whatever it takes.

    forget the 10m loan fee for hulk and offer them 38m to buy him.

    should have got Mario Gomez for 23m earlier in the summer to have as well as goaldado.

    there doesn’t seem to be anyone else worth big money. lewandowski is going Bayern next summer so cant get him.

    maybe try aston villa again and offer 28m plus adegayor for benteke ?

  7. yids :) 2nd September 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    or 15m for hernandez? moyes doesn’t seem to rate him !

  8. carlosthegooner 2nd September 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    i have to agree. well written and articulate. pretty much spot on

  9. rospur 2nd September 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Agree with all of the above but I’m just not convinced by AVB or that this will all be sorted given time to gel. The facts are that this inability to create CLEAR chances has been going on ever since he took over. We now play with no pace and the inverted wingers congest the space up front making us very narrow and easy to defend against. The only width comes from the full backs but very often by the time they’ve arrived in support the defensive midfield has dropped deep crowding the area and making it all but impossible to pick a pass. Consider this; Defoe, Ade, Dempey and Gilfi previously prolific goalscorers only scored a handful between them and now Soldado has not been provided a decent chance in 3 league games. Have they all dramatically lost form or is it the tactics we’re using?

    • rs691919 2nd September 2013 at 7:21 pm #

      Have to agree. When you also consider that our fullbacks are not the best crossers of the ball, there have been limited options. Walker made a nice pass to Soldado but Mertesacker was there to block. Spurs seem to keep running the attack through Walker, and it’s just not working.

  10. BigH 2nd September 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    As usual an excellent analysis. Mark u da man! Yes disappointed, but they are a good side that have played together, so for me it was always going to be tough with all the new faces. We need that spark of creativity and that will come with Lamela and Ericksen. We just have to be a tad patient