Arsenal 1 Spurs 1: taking away space opens it up

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.

Compact Spurs

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.

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Taking away space between the lines of midfield and defence.

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.

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Arsenal shots prior to Nacer Chadli’s goal.

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.

Quick counters

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.

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Capoue springs Chadli.

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.

Pressing trap

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.

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Kaboul running back.

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.

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First Kaboul, then Adebayor, then Eriksen all press.

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.

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Lamela finds Chadli.

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.

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Lamela slices his clearance backwards.

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.

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Spurs strung out across the box as Cazorla is now free.

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.

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8 Responses to Arsenal 1 Spurs 1: taking away space opens it up

  1. Zack 30th September 2014 at 8:58 am #

    I don’t know if we were watching the same game, but the commentators on my stream were so biased toward Arsehole that I wanted to smash their stupid faces through my screen. The media bias against us throughout the world is disgusting, and really pisses me off sometimes.

    Regarding the actual game, we were really solid, I’m impressed we were able to counter so effectively without having focused on it as much as our pressing philosophy. Makes for a great plan B imo, just need that better final ball and we coulda scored 3 or more goals to be honest.

    Ade looked like he lost heart with all the Arsenal fans hating on him, he even apologized to the Arsenal fans for his Man City slide after the game, which annoyed me. Maybe giving Soldado a run in the Prem would be a good idea so that Ade can get his priorities right.

    Cheers for the article Mark!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th September 2014 at 10:49 am #

      The media is full of ex-Arsenal and Liverpool players. Sky’s coverage included Sol Campbell and Alan Smith both hating on Spurs, whilst Jamie Redknapp is still bitter about us sacking his old man – that lineup is what the mute button was made for.

      I think it does make for a solid plan B and it’ll be interesting to see if we roll out similar tactics away to the other big boys…

  2. Matt 30th September 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    I think it was an excellent performance and for once we had a manager that showed Arsenal the respect they deserve rather than playing 9 strikers and “trying to go toe to toe with them” and lose 5-2. Poch got his tactics spot on and just like when he gets criticism when he gets it wrong, he must get plaudits for getting it right on Sat.

    2 points you made were spot on imo Mark. First was that Lamela’s mistake for the goal wasn’t slicing the ball, but chasing the ball and leaving Cazorla unmarked. Second was that I too would have liked to have seen Bentaleb come on earlier to try to keep the ball better when we were becoming under mounted pressure at 1-0.

    Thanks again

    • Chris 30th September 2014 at 11:04 pm #

      No-one takes me seriously, but I think when we need to defend a lead, we just put Dembele on the pitch and have him run around with the ball until the 90 minutes is up. That guy can hold off challenges all day.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2014 at 10:39 am #

        I take you seriously Chris, you’ve posted some great comments in the past. Dembele running with the ball for 90 minutes tho? I think this time its maybe a step too far ;)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2014 at 10:29 am #

      Agree that Poch should get the plaudits for this one Matt. His tactics were a bit unexpected given this is a derby game that has in the past been end-to-end. I wonder if this will become a normal plan away to the big sides or if he will have something different up his sleeve next time given that he has know shown his hand.

  3. tony 30th September 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    Thanks for the article Mark. I thought we played really well and as you say this was a mature tactical performance where every player looked like they knew what they were meant to do.

    Further to that i thought everyone, with exception of Ade, played well. People have rightly commented on Kaboul, Verts and Lloris but i thought Naughton, rose and capoue were also very good. Rose has infuriated me in the past but i think this year he’s cutting out the silly mistakes and i honestly think naughton has been putting in some solid performances since end of last season – where he fails is getting to the byline and putting crosses in.

    I was also very pleased to see Ryan Mason get a start if only because it proved the lack of high quality midfielders we have, such as a Luka Modric. he fully deserves his chance ahead of dembele and paulinho and this raises questions about our recruitment policy. If we had Moutinho instead of Dembele things would have been very different the last couple of years.

    As for the media bias i also couldn’t stand listening to Alan Smith on Saturday. Generally, I dont think its so much a case of the media hating spurs but rather loving whoever is in the top four (plus Man U) any particular season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2014 at 10:37 am #

      Good post Tony. I agree about Naughton, who looks much more at home on the right, and Rose is definitely stepping up this season. As you point out, Naughton is not so good going forward, but has looked pretty good defensively and that was what was required of him in this game.

      I was also pleased to see Ryan Mason play and thought he did well overall. My only area of concern with him was defensively as he looks a bit light weight. This was especially true after we scored and Arsenal stepped up their pressure. I thought the Bentaleb change should’ve come earlier and Mason should’ve been the one replaced as we didn’t need his forward play and passing at that point. More stability, midfield presence and ball control was required and a Bentaleb, Capoue pivot would’ve done this.