A rather naive performance saw us exit the FA Cup, as it finished Arsenal 2 Spurs 0 at the Emirates.
We did create some chances by taking advantage of Arsenal’s impetuous defenders. However, we ended up being overrun between the lines, as Tim Sherwood rather played in to Arsene Wenger’s hands.
Tottenham set up and tactics
Tim Sherwood once again opted for two up front, as Roberto Soldado partnered Emmanuel Adebayor. The pair were effective in creating turnovers high up the pitch, either through tackling or pressure.
In midfield Christian Eriksen was playing his usual role of drifting inside to avoid being overrun in the centre. This allowed Danny Rose to jet forward, but also contributed to our downfall with Arsenal attacking heavily down the right, as we’ll look at in a minute.
Over on the other side, Aaron Lennon was playing wide and forming a nice one-two punch with Kyle Walker, which saw both players trying to run in-behind. With Santi Cazorla drifting inside, this allowed the pair to attack Nacho Monreal.
The objective seemed to be to get in-behind down the flanks to provide crosses. However, whether this was by design or not, our best chances arrived from turnovers generated high up or by taking advantage of the Gunners’ centre backs impetuosity.
Tottenham generate chances
I looked in the Tottenham tactics abut taking advantage of Arsenal’s centre backs coming towards the ball. Usually this involves Koscielny coming short quickly looking for the interception. Alongside him, Per Mertesacker sweeps up behind. Here however, Wenger went for two centre backs that come towards the ball looking to jump in front, in Thomas Vermaelen alongside Koscielny.
As a result of having two active defenders looking to intercept, our first and best chance, was a result of their impetuous nature.
Christian Eriksen had drifted inside and received a pass from Moussa Dembele. As Koscielny raced forward to jam him, Eriksen turned and the ball ricocheted in to the space behind.
The Dane was in, but for some reason he opted to strike the ball with his left rather than come across on his right to open up the goal.
The chance came from Koscielny trying to get in quickly and nick the ball and he is good at it – he made 7 interceptions in the match. However, his partner, Thomas Vermaelen, is not so well timed and he was quickly got at twice in succession.
Firstly, he was booked for bringing down Moussa Dembele after he had turned away from him and was off towards goal. Then, Roberto Soldado did him with a neat back heel and was away, only to be denied by the Belgian’s excellent last ditch sliding tackle.
Vermaelen was replaced at half time, supposedly injured. But with the Belgian on a yellow card and up a goal, Wenger brought on a deeper playing centre back in Per Mertesacker, which slowed us down.
After that our only real chance came from a cross – what the original game plan appeared to be. Lennon picked out Adebayor, who brought his ball in to the box down superbly, but then slipped as he spun Mertesacker on the turn.
As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Arsenal vs Spurs, the Gunners are set up to attack down the right.
This usually involves Walcott looking to run in-behind and either shoot or drive in a low cross for a centre forward like Olivier Giroud. Combining with Walcott is Bacary Sagna. The full back looks to get by him on the overlap and cross. Or, he can offer an out ball back up the line, which can then recycle play or allow him to cross from further out.
The surprising and rather naive thing about our formation was giving Christian Eriksen so much licence to roam.
The Dane has been drifting across the park in other matches, but here, much more restraint needed to be called for. In the Tottenham tactics I looked at how Everton had driven the Gunners back down their favoured right side through the use of Oviedo and Pienaar. Chelsea also did something similar, as Mourinho changed up his usual formation to his well-recognized 4-3-3 from his first time in England.
As said many times, I’m not a massive fan of average position diagrams, as players switching flanks can skew them. However, Arsenal’s resembles their usual overload on this side. Gnabry was filling Walcott’s right-sided role, as Theo in the centre forward position also drifted to this side.
This really allowed Gnabry to be the chief instigator of our problems, as he was involved in many of Arsenal’s chances as they drifted between our lines.
Arsenal gets between the lines
Eriksen moving in-field left Danny Rose exposed. However, in recent weeks we’ve also seen sides like Southampton exploit the space between our lines of defence and midfield.
The switch to 4-4-2, or what can at times look like a skewed 4-3-3, has left our centre backs exposed as they are playing deeper than under AVB. Whilst this means that our high line isn’t being attacked, it has seen space appearing between the midfield – which is pushing on in support of our two strikers – and our defence.
Again, not for their actual positions, but for the depth levels of our players, our average positions kind of highlights this space appearing once again.
The biggest exponents were Santi Cazorla and Serge Gnabry. The latter created many of Arsenal’s best chances from the space he was afforded with Eriksen drifting inside.
An early break from our corner saw him find Walcott who raced through to shoot and force Hugo Lloris in to a diving save.
Next up saw both Gnabry and Cazorla find space between the lines, as they picked out Walcott running in-behind once more.
Then came the opening goal. Gnabry picked up the ball in acres as Bentaleb and Dembele were caught forward, as was Kyle Walker.
This allowed Gnabry to drive towards our defence and as Walcott took Dawson briefly inside, the young German slid a through pass in to an unmarked Santi Cazorla.
After the interval, Gnabry got in-behind Rose to lay a pass in to Theo Walcott once more.
Walcott rounded Lloris and hit the ball in to the side netting, but he, Gnabry and Cazorla (waving for the ball) were all in the space behind our midfield again.
Late on, Gnabry got in to the space between the lines once more, as he set up Mesut Ozil. Hugo Lloris pushed the shot away, but the passage of play once more highlighted where the problems lay.
After a goal scored from getting players in to this space between the lines, Arsenal didn’t capitalise on their chances and the game remained in the balance.
That was until Danny Rose’s error on halfway at a crucial time, sealing our fate and any chance of a comeback.
Arsenal 2 Spurs 0 overall
The problem with having a set formation and system is that after a few games, opponents can analyse it and exploit your weaknesses unless you give them different looks.
Tim Sherwood kind of fell in to that trap here on two counts.
Firstly, Eriksen’s inside movement meant that Arsenal frequently had overloads down their favoured side to attack.
Eriksen drifting inside has been a feature of our side for several matches, so I’d expect more opponents to target our left side from now on.
Secondly, Arsenal got players forward in to the space between our lines of midfield and defence.
Adam Lallana created and scored a goal from exposing the space between our lines at St. Mary’s. David Moyes ended up targeting this zone by trying to get Rooney and Kagawa in to it after the withdrawal of Etienne Capoue at Old Trafford.
Capoue, who naturally sits deeper and patrols this area, was the only change at the Emirates and was sorely missed. He would have provided some cover against Arsenal’s abundance of playmakers, which is why I wrote ‘his name must be on the team sheet’ in the Tottenham tactics prior to the game.
Overall, Tim Sherwood has been trying to get more of an attacking thrust in to the side, which is highly commendable. However, there has to be a sense to adapt in some matches and not play in to the hands of an opponent’s strength, which is exactly what happened here.
Final score: Arsenal 2 Spurs 0.