An excellent point away at the Emirates sees us not only score, but also put on a good tactical display against a top four rival, as it finished Arsenal 1 Spurs 1.
The performance was built upon a solid foundation that many a visitor to the Emirates has tried, but quite often failed. We dropped off, sat deep and compact, looking to spring on the counter attack, which was nothing new. However, the way Mauricio Pochettino went about achieving it was.
The key to any team trying to take on the Gunners is to remove the space between the lines that they like to get their abundance of neat, ball-passing players in to. Mauricio Pochettino did this by playing with eight men dropping deep in the defensive phase, leaving two up top to counter attack.
Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason were sinking to deny space between themselves and the back four. As a result, Arsenal had a tough time trying to get the likes of Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, and later substitute Cazorla, free between the lines.
We were content to give them the space between Adebayor and Chadli and the midfield, but not between them and the back four.
What this did was give Arsenal possession of the ball, which they dominated by 69% to 31%, but didn’t give them great shooting locations. Up until we took the lead, and then consequently sank deeper, Arsenal had to be content with long-range efforts from outside the penalty area.
In fact, up until Nacer Chadli put us ahead, Arsenal only managed 3 shots inside the box, only one of which was on target.
Leaving Chadli and Adebayor higher up achieved the second phase of the game plan. That was to counter attack, but also to try and run off Arsenal’s slower centre back, Per Mertesacker.
Giving Arsenal possession and inviting them forward allowed us to launch several good counter attacks. So much so, that we arguably had the better chances throughout the first half.
Nacer Chadli was very much on the periphery of the game, but when the opportunity presented itself to attack on the break, he suddenly became a very central figure.
The ball was quickly moved forward through passing or dribbling, but the idea often seemed to be to try and get at Per Mertesacker and expose his lack of pace.
Erik Lamela miss-hit a pass on one of our first opportunities with Chadli and Adebayor breaking through Mertesacker’s inside right channel. Later, Chadli again went on the run through here to receive the ball, but for some reason he cut inside and made a hash of an improvised back heeled pass.
The third time was almost lucky; Capoue found the Belgian running through once more, but he shanked a shot across goal on his weaker left foot.
Although we hadn’t been clinical or composed when these opportunities presented themselves, the plan was working. Arsenal were being given enough rope to keep them coming forward, leaving space for us to run in to.
Mauricio Pochettino is renowned for his coaching of a pressing game, but here we did the inverse and dropped off. However, it was a moment of opportunistic pressing from Younes Kaboul that turned the game.
Whilst we were content to only engage Arsenal once the ball reached the halfway line, there was something about our goal that was very Pochettino-esque. That is, players rotating position and a pressing trigger which pings a domino effect of closing down.
Wojciech Szczesny had the ball from a failed corner attempt and was very quick to throw it out. Younes Kaboul was running back to regain his position and wasn’t even facing the ball.
Had Szczesny held the ball for longer Kaboul would have kept running, but his throw out instantly saw our centre back assume the centre forward’s role of closing down the first man.
Seeing Kaboul go, Emmanuel Adebayor then in turn went to close the next man, Mertesacker, as Chadli had Koscielny.
Seeing how the others had started a wave of pressure, Christian Eriksen then went on the move as Mertesacker’s pass shifted the ball slowly towards Mathieu Flamini.
The Frenchman got caught on the turn, allowing Eriksen to nick the ball off him and send it towards Erik Lamela. The Argentine took a touch and picked out the run of Chadli once more to slot home and send the hoards of away fans in to delirious celebrations.
Whether Kaboul gambled or not, this passage of play was classic Pochettino and it paid huge dividends.
Sinking too deep
After taking the lead, Arsenal pressure was inevitable, especially as we continued to sink deeper and deeper.
Many a team have got sucked back towards their own goal having taken the lead and we were no different. After playing with a good shape and being relatively composed in our own defensive third, we were suddenly back in our box with Kaboul and Vertonghen making last ditch tackles and clearances.
Arsenal weren’t creating clear-cut chances, but they did get one to level through an error. It was not only Lamela’s miscued clearance, but then also his reaction to giving the ball away.
As the ball was cleared out, Lamela tried to put his foot through it, but sliced it back towards our goal.
As often happens, when a player makes a mistake, he chases the ball to rectify it. Lamela was guilty of this, as he went to double up with Kyle Naughton on the Arsenal crosser.
With Lamela having previously been on Santi Cazorla, the Spaniard was now wide open, with us having sunk seven men pretty much in a line across the six-yard box.
Cazorla received the pass and sent the ball low across the area hoping someone would get a touch. With Welbeck swinging and missing it found its way to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Arsenal wide man had been their most dangerous player on the pitch, but mainly for his surging runs with the ball. He made no mistake in lashing it home to even the score.
It was an unfortunate goal and its scrappy nature was a result of a bad decision and us sinking so deep. Surprisingly having conceded it, the expected Arsenal pressure didn’t continue due to Mauricio Pochettino’s changes.
Before the equalising goal, Aaron Lennon coming on for Christian Eriksen made us better defensively on the left against Oxlade-Chamberlain. We now had two players who could run with him in Rose and the pint-sized winger.
Nabil Bentaleb coming on for Nacer Chadli gave us extra size and strength in the middle of the park to stop Arsenal getting between the lines as we sank deeper. It was a shame the Bentaleb change didn’t come earlier, as this may have made a difference in shoring up the game.
Arsenal 1 Spurs 1 overall
This was an excellent tactical performance. It’s not often we come away from the Emirates saying we had a great chance of winning, but that was the case here.
As we looked at in the Arsenal vs Spurs preview, taking away the Gunners space between the lines is key to controlling them. Although we conceded possession, we restricted Arsenal to a number of long-range efforts by dropping off and being compact.
There were a number of great performances, particularly from Hugo Lloris, Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason. Overall, the team played excellently as a unit and were focused in what they did.
It was a moment of opportunism though to start a pressing trap by Younes Kaboul that put us in front, unfortunately we just couldn’t hold on to it.
Final score: Arsenal 1 Spurs 1.