Another North London Derby, another fast start and it all looked so good up until Emmanuel Adebayor was sent off. Andre Villas-Boas made several aggressive tactical changes, but couldn’t stop the Gooners taking control and running up the score, as it finished Arsenal 5 Spurs 2.
Without the injured Steven Caulker, Andre Villas-Boas shifted Jan Vertonghen to centre back and Kyle Naughton came in on the left. Clint Dempsey gave way in the advanced midfielder role, as Jermain Defoe partnered Emmanuel Adebayor up top in a straight 4-4-2 formation.
Spurs really went after this one out the gate. Andre Villas-Boas went with an aggressive 4-4-2 formation, content to concede ground to Arsenal in the centre of the park, but to hit them hard up top.
Whether it would have worked for the whole game we’ll never know, but up until the sending off, Spurs were very much in control.
We’d seen Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe operate in tandem in the 3-1 win against Maribor and the pair were working in similar fashion here.
With the ball, Adebayor was dropping deeper to link the play with the midfield, whilst Defoe was up on the shoulder of the defenders.
Without possession, Defoe would drop deeper on to the opposition’s deepest lying midfielder, in this case Mikel Arteta, whilst Adebayor would be higher up. The ploy here, as against Maribor, was to make Adebayor the focus for any long balls cleared out from defence.
The tactic worked well, as the two combined for the opening goal and if you’d backed an early strike as tipped in the Tottenham tactics preview, things were good.
Defoe was looking to get in behind Per Mertesacker and Jan Vertonghen found him with a long ball straight down the inside left channel. Defoe managed to spin in behind the Arsenal man and get a shot away. Wojciech Szczesny could only claw it in to the path of Emmanuel Adebayor who had galloped over the ground to scoop up the rebound, 1-0.
Vertonghen’s pass was pinpoint and he’d been looking to play several long balls over the Arsenal defence whilst Adebayor was on the field.
After jumping out in to the lead, the tactic of going 4-4-2 with two naturally wide wingers and two centre forwards looked promising. Aaron Lennon dragged a shot just past the post, which could have made it 2-0 and would have put a completely different spin on this match.
Then came Adebayor’s lunging challenge on Santi Cazorla and the game completely swung.
The Togolese man saw red and gave Arsenal the motivation they needed after looking distinctly rocked from the fast Spurs start.
After Adebayor received his marching orders, we saw two different tactical switches from Andre Villas-Boas. Both were aggressive moves and one more successful than the other.
The first tactical change was to go 4-4-1, which is a pretty standard reaction to losing a man. Rather than drop deep and play on the counter which is the usual tactic, AVB had the team maintain a high line and Arsenal exploited this to the fullest.
Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna were the targets of choice, as Arteta and Cazorla looked to try and play them in behind our high line down the Arsenal right.
As in the 2-1 defeat to Man City last week, Gareth Bale wasn’t providing sufficient cover to his full back and Kyle Naughton was having a torrid time of it.
After putting in just 2 crosses in the first 8 minutes, Arsenal attempted 17 crosses in the spell between the sending off and half time.
The majority came from the right, with Walcott attempting 8 in this period and Sagna 4.
The goals came from a cross from the right, one form a low driven cross from the left and the other from a lucky deflected shot down the middle.
The game really got away from Spurs in this period as Arsenal used the extra man in midfield and the space in behind our high defensive line.
Three at the back
At half time, Andre Villas-Boas had a re-jig and went for three at the back. This was a bold move to get back in to the game, but also due to the fact that he took off the two full backs and used Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon as his wing backs.
With Bale and Lennon pushed on, this gave the Arsenal full backs less time on the ball and forced them backwards.
Gareth saw much more of the ball than Aaron though, as the Welshman came more and more in to the game in the second half.
Thomas Vermaelen is an impetuous defender and here he was looking to use his height and strength to over-power Lennon to be first to the ball. This was highlighted when the Spurs man picked up a yellow card for hip-checking the Belgian who had nipped in front of him to win the ball. Lennon did have some joy whilst it was 11v11, but for most of the match the Belgian was too big and strong for him.
Over on the left, Gareth Bale was giving Bacary Sagna much more trouble. He scored a goal and should have set Defoe up to make it 4-3, instead opting for a shot/cross that ended up as neither. Had we converted here, Arsenal were wobbling and anything could have happened.
On the flip side to playing with natural wingers as wingbacks, this left space down the outside channels in our defensive zone.
Arsenal were able to capitalise on this, as both of their second half goals came from here. Cazorla made it 4-1 after Lukas Podolski charged down the outside left and squared it across the box for the Spaniard to prod home. Then Walcott notched the fifth after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had driven down the right.
Arsenal again scored from squared balls once inside the box and the game was up.
Arsenal 5 Spurs 2 conclusions
Andre Villas-Boas gave many of the fans a glimpse of what they had wanted to see, as we went 4-4-2. Whether this ploy would have worked for longer had Emmanuel Adebayor not been sent off, we’ll never know.
After he departed, Spurs were forced to play on the back foot and the game was really lost in the period between then and half time. The defensive organisation and high line really killed us, as Arsenal’s midfield trio ran the game, probing balls in behind for Walcott and Sagna to cross.
The formation switch in the second half was a positive move to get something from the match. Spurs had decent spells, although ultimately succumbing to predictable goals generated in the space left by having more attck-minded players as wingbacks.
Andre Villas-Boas said the players could be proud of their efforts.
“At 3-1 at half-time, with 10 men, you are in for a route, or the possibility of being shamed, but we can be proud of ourselves and I think the fans should be proud of the players. I’m sure they are. They have been tremendous.”
Although the score line of Arsenal 5 Spurs 2 looked bad, I quite admired the way AVB was constantly looking for a way back in to the game. He did miss a trick by continuing with the high line once we had been reduced to ten, but if we’d got to 4-3, then anything could have happened.