An opportunity missed as our League Cup tie finishes Spurs 1-2 Arsenal at White Hart Lane.
We controlled large parts of this game but there was a real sense of a missed opportunity in this North London derby. Both managers named weakened sides, but on paper our line-up looked the stronger.
The match ended up finishing Spurs 1-2 Arsenal and revolved around three key areas. Arsenal exposing Federico Fazio. The positioning of Mathieu Flamini. And finally, our failure to exploit their ailing right side.
The game got off to a quick start due to Arsenal pressing us extremely high. They did this in order to stop us playing the ball around at the back between Eric Dier splitting our two centre backs, Federico Fazio and Kevin Wimmer.
Arsenal pushed Joel Campbell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain up alongside Olivier Giroud. They also squeezed defensive midfielders Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta in-behind them to condense our playing area.
This had the desired effect as it influenced much of the first half and meant that we had to move the ball around quicker at the back or send it longer forward. It also meant that Mathieu Flamini, who scored both Arsenal goals, was further up the pitch, allowing him to swoop in twice.
Arsenal exposes Federico Fazio
Federico Fazio had another game to forget. He didn’t help himself by his general play in this game and the fact that Arsenal were looking to expose him. Fazio played a number of errant passes due to the pressing, but he also was a target for both Oliver Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to run off.
Arsenal’s pressing, the positioning of Flamini and a Federico Fazio miscue all combined to gift the Gunners their opening goal.
Under pressure at the back, Fazio passed the ball straight forwards, trying to ping it through a crowd of Arsenal players. The pass wasn’t high enough to navigate over them, but waist height. It was easily nabbed by Mikel Arteta, who was squeezing up behind his forwards with Mathieu Flamini.
The ball was moved forwards and Kevin Wimmer had the chance to clear, but off balance, scuffed it straight back to them. It found its way to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who had drifted off Federico Fazio with the Argentine playing his usual reactive defence in backing away. This gave Oxlade-Chamberlain room to size up a shot, but Wimmer let Flamini run off him as well.
Michel Vorm didn’t cover himself in glory, palming the shot straight out for Flamini to sweep in to the net. The Frenchman had moved forward from his and Arteta’s much higher starting positions due to Arsenal’s press.
Failure to exploit Arsenal’s right
Arsenal’s press and the higher starting positions of their defensive midfielders gave us trouble, but they were leaving a ton of room down their right side. The reason for this was that they were having Joel Campbell tuck in extremely narrow to stop us overloading the centre. Anyone who has seen anything of us knows that all our attacking players cut inside and Arsene Wenger wanted to protect against this.
What this left was acres of space down the Arsenal right side where Mathieu Debuchy was defending by himself. This let us in for several good opportunities to create something. Christian Eriksen was drifting in to this space and had a couple of chip crosses for Harry Kane. Danny Rose was also in on a few occasions, having a shot that went past the post here.
He also went by Debuchy and was hauled down, earning the Arsenal right back a yellow card. He then got in again and whacked the ball over David Ospina’s crossbar when a lighter chip was enough to take it over the onrushing keeper.
We were a threat down the left, but we really didn’t capitalise on it by creating higher percentage opportunities. That was until the second half when we levelled the scores up.
The passage of play saw Kieran Tripper run on to the ball on the other flank, but Nacer Chadli actually held his width for once down the vulnerable Arsenal right. This caught Debuchy inside as Trippier delivered the ball and Chadli was open.
When Chadli gets on the ball he is a sure thing to drift in on his right foot, but this time he fooled Debuchy by going left towards the by-line. This created the space he needed to cut the ball back towards goal through the corridor of uncertainty. Calum Chambers stuck out a leg and deflected it in to the back of the net to make it 1-1, game on.
After the scores were tied up, it really looked as if we would go on and get the winner. Arsenal started to drop deeper being forced back by our possession passing and pressing.
Mauricio Pochettino made changes to get the direct running of Son Heung-Min in to the game and the driving runs of Dele Alli. He withdrew Andros Townsend who was having an average game down the right, but clearly would’ve been better suited to playing down the left and trying to have both him and Rose expose Debuchy 2v1.
Arsene Wenger made changes as well. The key one was to introduce Alexis Sanchez. This was because he removed Joel Campbell; whose inside help was leaving Debuchy vulnerable. It moved Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Debuchy’s side. Oxlade-Chamberlain is much better at tracking back and this helped to stop the success we were having down this flank.
Exposing Fazio once more
The changes really helped Arsenal get back in to the game. Before the switch to remove Joel Campbell we had them on the back foot and we were massively in the ascendancy. The change helped them to get back up the pitch by having more balance to their side, allowing Flamini and Arteta to get higher up like they were in the first half.
In the first 45, Arsenal had also tried to target Federico Fazio. He was having tussling contests with Olivier Giroud, which is probably why Mauricio Pochettino picked him. However, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also running off him. An errant pass in the first half saw the ball go straight to the Arsenal man who tore back past Fazio, but he fired across goal and wide.
After the interval and Fazio began to tire and his positioning became even more questionable. Giroud easily ran off the back of him and saw his low shot deflect off Michel Vorm’s right foot out for a corner.
Arsenal then looked to run Oxlade-Chamberlain in-behind him in the move that lead to the second goal. Alexis Sanchez was looking for the wide man’s run when Fazio deflected the ball up in the air with the outside of his off-foot.
It fell to Flamini who was squeezing up from his defensive midfield position. The Frenchman will probably never hit another volley like he did in to the corner of the net.
From being in the ascendancy and looking like we were going to score the winner, we were faced with the score being Spurs 1-2 Arsenal and now chasing to force extra time.
Mauricio Pochettino dispensed with defensive midfielder Eric Dier to get Clinton N’Jie in to the game as we searched for a goal, but no real chances followed.
Spurs 1-2 Arsenal overall
Both managers gambled by naming changed sides, knowing they would be on the end of a hiding if they lost. For us, the risk didn’t pay off.
We know that Federico Fazio is just not suited to English football and naming him here was a real punt so that others could rest and it failed miserably. He was heavily involved in both of their goals and looked a liability all evening.
It can’t all be pinned on one player though. Fazio was poor and Michel Vorm didn’t have a good game, but we didn’t exploit the space we were getting down the Arsenal right before Wenger moved Oxlade-Chamberlain there. We were getting in to this zone, but not creating enough guilt-edged chances from it. A switch to start creating 2v1s against Mathieu Debuchy was needed either in the first half or at half time. It didn’t happen. The first move to get someone in to that space was with Clinton N’Jie’s introduction and by this time it was far too late.
Overall, we did control large parts of this match, but it was a real opportunity missed through personnel selection and then failure to spot and exploit a definite weakness.
Final score: Spurs 1-2 Arsenal.