Passion, guts, energy and application; it was a performance very much in the manner that Tim Sherwood has been talking. However, just like the boss word’s, we lacked guile to open a stubborn defence, as the North London Derby finished Spurs 0 Arsenal 1.
The game was a very simple tactical battle. Spurs squeezed up to harass at every opportunity, whilst Arsenal were content to sit deep and play on the counter attack.
The only goal of the game was scored against the defensive flaw in our formation, as Arsenal opened up our left side.
Fatal defensive flaw
The game began with a bang after a minute and ruthlessly exposed the area of weakness in our formation, the left side. I talked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal about how the selection of players on this flank was crucial.
Arsenal favours this side to attack and therefore we couldn’t deploy a player like Christian Eriksen drifting infield. This would leave Danny Rose either 1v1 or with a lot of ground to cover. We’d seen this scenario in the FA Cup loss at the Emirates and it was replicated here twice in the first 15 minutes.
Without his abundance of creative midfielders, Arsene Wenger played with plenty of speed in his side. The slower Olivier Giroud would come short, whilst the much quicker Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski were looking to run beyond him. It was simple in-out movement counter attack stuff.
In the first minute we were caught. Eriksen had drifted inside to try and outnumber Arsenal in the centre, whilst Rose had bombed on down the outside to provide width. An errant pass from Sandro and our whole left side was exposed, with these two players out of position.
Rosicky raced forward in to acres of green space with Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of him and after his pass was miscontrolled, thumped in the lose ball.
It was misfortunate that a bad pass had left our players out of position, but out of position they were and this was classic Sherwood. Trying to impose yourself on the opposition without regarding where their strengths lie.
Minutes later and it happened again with the same two Arsenal players combining, as Rose was again caught up-field and Eriksen inside.
This time Oxlade-Chamberlain took Rosicky’s pass in his stride and was clear, but completely fluffed his chip over the on-rushing Hugo Lloris.
Whilst our pressing saw us control large parts of the match, the threat of Arsenal countering through here due to Eriksen and Rose’s movement was always present.
The Gunners are usually known for keeping possession and short passing. However, with three runners from midfield, rather than the usual passers like Ozil and Wilshere, their attack in the final third was very vertical.
Arsenal had plenty of success down our left against Eriksen and Rose, but struggled to complete passes down our right where Naughton and Townsend cut them out.
Hit Adebayor and cross
Whilst playing with an open left side was a flaw, the energy and pressing in the defensive phase was good. We won the ball back early and often, then looked to get it up to Emmanuel Adebayor and work it in to crossing situations.
With Arsenal sat deep, this meant that play was often moved from back to front, looking to take advantage of Adebayor’s height and aerial ability. The problem was that Mertesacker and Koscielny are also decent in the air, with the German, who is taller than the Adebayor, winning the majority of duels.
When Adebayor was able to create knockdowns or the ball was moved through midfield on the ground, we were looking to create crossing situations.
Christian Eriksen drifting inside meant this was predominantly from our right, as Andros Townsend and Kyle Naughton focused on trying to get the ball in the box. Again they often ran in to Mertesacker and Koscielny being able to head clear.
Arsenal shot blocking
If we did manage to create a scoring chance it was quite frequently blocked due to the sheer number of bodies Arsenal had back defending.
Of our 17 efforts in the match, 11 were blocked, including our best chance, which fell to Nacer Chadli. Again this was from a cross, as Szczesny flapped at it.
The Polish keeper had spilled a long ball hit forward from the back towards Emmanuel Adebayor moments earlier, but Chadli failed to take it under control. This next one was from a cross, as Szzcesny again palmed it up in the air and Chadli stole in behind him.
The Belgian managed to put Mertesacker on his backside, but couldn’t do the same to Koscielny who blocked his effort.
Drawing Arsenal out?
For all of the huff and puff, and Chadli’s chance from Szczesny’s error aside, we struggled to open up Arsenal.
The problem was that we had them penned in, but didn’t have the creative guile to open them up. The plan really should have switched to trying to draw them forward and a passage of play involving Andros Townsend was a clear indicator of this.
Arsenal had broken on a counter attack, but the ball was regained after an errant pass and quickly shifted forward, as we went on a counter of our own.
Emmanuel Adebayor slid the ball in to the path of Andros Townsend, with Arsenal caught extremely square and narrow in transition.
Townsend had the chance to shoot, but with it on his unfavoured right foot, chose to cross. It went behind Nacer Chadli who was charging towards the near post.
This really should’ve signified a change in tactics to try and draw Arsenal out to create some space in transition, but the pressure and long balls up to Adebayor continued. It also wasn’t helped by Tim Sherwood’s subs.
As Sherwood continued to press for an equaliser, he made three attacking changes. He dispensed with his defensive midfielder and brought on Paulinho, Sigurdsson and Soldado.
On the flip side, Arsene Wenger made three defensive changes. He introduced Monreal, Vermaelen and Flamini, as he removed his three flying midfielders of Podolski, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The game then became even more condensed in Arsenal’s half, but we never looked like getting through or in-behind them as there was now even less space.
Spurs 0 Arsenal 1 overall
After matching high lines last season at the Lane and getting burnt, Arsene Wenger has opted to sit deep and play counter attacking football in all three meetings since. This really was the most extreme of the three though.
Playing with an open left side was a fatal flaw, given this is where Arsenal usually attack and they scored the only goal of the game because of this. Christian Eriksen would have been better deployed in the centre, but also if Sherwood wasn’t looking to back off and draw Arsenal out, then he needed two wingers to stretch them.
With Arsenal sat deep and with us wanting to hem them in, this was a situation where getting two creative passers in to the game could’ve paid off. Unfortunately with Lewis Holtby and Tom Carroll out on loan, we only had Eriksen’s guile to rely on.
Tim Sherwood said we were ‘unlucky’ and we were, but this also called for some creative thinking to open Arsenal up or draw them out. Sometimes you can’t kick through the front door, but have to jump the fence. This was one of those situations.
Final score: Spurs 0 Arsenal 1.