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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.