Spurs 0 Arsenal 1: fatal flaw in formation

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.


Erisken and Rose are caught by the turnover.

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.


Freedom of the flank.

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.


Eriksen and Rose caught again.

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 final third passes.

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.


Emmanuel Adebayor aerial duels, Spurs 0 Arsenal 1.

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.


Tottenham crosses, Spurs 0 Arsenal 1.

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.


Andros gets in.

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.

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8 Responses to Spurs 0 Arsenal 1: fatal flaw in formation

  1. Paulo 17th March 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    Our season has imploded!

    At Chelsea last week we were a bit unlucky with the red card and the individual errors, and the Sherwood starts all this, “some are with me, some are not” rubbish… Bring on Benfica and we show them no respect stick 2 up front and then fail to change it at half time when it’s not working… Then come Arsenal, all guts and maximum effort but a total lack of cutting edge and a fatally flawed formation, then to cap it all Sherwood gets tripped up after the match and comes out with, “our only 2 world class players are Adebayor and Lloris, the rest I’m not sure”…..

    There needs to be change in the summer and I know where i’s start…

    Rant over.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th March 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      I agree Paulo.

  2. SomeDude 18th March 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Hey, good read again :) I know it’s not the end of the season, but how do you feel Timmy is doing? Personally I liked AVB because he seemed to have a plan and respected cup performances which, I think, is how to develop a whole squad of players and end up challenging for titles. That being said, the playing style was getting incredibly dry and often “lacked guile” much more than in this encounter. So although it is too late to do anything about it (and the greatest competitors don’t tend to focus on things like that), I was wondering if you think switching AVB for Sherwood was a good move?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th March 2014 at 3:48 pm #

      I personally think he is in over his head. He was all bravado talk and give me a 10 year contract at the start and now he is talking like a sunday league manager berating his players in public. His antics on the sidelines recently have also been embarassing and the sign of someone who is losing it. Levy may rate him as one for the future and maybe he is in time, but he needs to get his coaching badges and prove himself in the lower leagues first. He compares himself to Brendan Rodgers, but Rodgers managed Watford, Reading and Swansea before Liverpool, making him nothing like Sherwood, plus Rodgers also has a distinct football philosophy of how his teams should play. Sherwood needs to develop his own footballing philosophy and work his way up the league ladder.

      To answer your question if switching AVB for Sherwood a good move? then no. AVB was reportedly sacked, but Levy’s lack of a back up plan did hint that he may have walked for one reason or another – Levy’s meddling, not his signings, who knows. We always say it, but the next appointment does have to be a sound one. This depends on the real objectives of the club. If it’s to make the Champions League in the next couple of seasons, then LVG. If it’s to have an excellent young team to grace our new stadium (whenever that should be), then de Boer is more of a longer term prospect for a ‘project’ than the much older LVG.

  3. Paulo 18th March 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more… Levy needs to take the responsibility for the appointment and it’s absurd… I could think of one or 2 complaints about Redknapp and AVB and a list as long as my arm about Sherwood…

    Sherwood may as well have written Arsenal an invitation to take a minute out of the game by chucking the ball at Sagna… it was a dream ticket for them in the 89th minute…

    What’s the deal with Benelab over Paulinho / Capoue / Dembele ?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th March 2014 at 9:33 am #

      I wish i knew mate. Bentaleb has potential, but he needs time to develop either with the reserves or out on loan at a Championship and then Premier League side. He shouldn’t have been thrown in at the deep end and it may do his longer term development more harm than good.

  4. SomeDude 19th March 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    I’ve been wondering about the Bentaleb thing too, especially with the loaning out of Holtby. It seems he wants to give young players a run out and in the position we are in I think it might not be a bad plan. In my opinion the top 4 is a right off and with Man City definitely finishing in the top 5 then 6th place gets us back into Europe. Everton, Man U and Southampton all have to play each other and a declared title challenger before the day is done. Even writing of our game against Liverpool, 6th is a manageable target while fielding some youth players. I agree that playing with inexpereinced players is damaging our points tally this season but it could pay out next time round.

    I’m no expert but I think that this is exactly the kind of occasions that players get called experienced for having gone through. That’s not to say that I think Sherwood should have bet it all on Bentaleb or should play Naughton over Walker but if we are going to use the likes of Kane, Townsend, Rose, Naughton and Bentaleb then we should do so nowish. Doing so would put us in a much stronger position next year strategically, as you need a large and experienced squad if you want to compete for more than one title at once. I know that 95% of Spurs fans want Champions League or nothing but personably I like Europa (Thursday’s fixtures include Tottenham/Benfica, Porto/Napoli, Florentina/Juventus and Real Betis/Sevilla) plus even if we did make the champions league we’d probably suffer major setbacks as our squad isn’t deep, experienced or talented enough to really compete for 4 trophies a season yet. (on a sidenote doing well in europa helps our ranking and therefore potential champs league success and gives us a little clout as a club)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th March 2014 at 6:05 pm #

      It’s an idea and it would certainly give them some more experience. The only thing is that with Tim probably being axed in the summer it depends on who follows him and what their attitude to bringing the youth through is. Also, we’ve signed seven players and Levy will want them being used so they are not devaluing. Getting Lamela on the field, if we a re not babysitting him to sell on in the summer, would be a good idea. As would getting some game time for Capoue and Chiriches who have rarely featured.

      I like the Europa and i agree about the coefficient points, but i think a season out of it may do us well – see Liverpool. 5th and 6th in the Premier League will both qualify, so i’m not sure we’ll avoid it, but i think it’ll give a new manager time to work on the training field rather than jetting off to far flung places and having to prepare for Thursday matches. The squad will also be fresher.