Relentless at getting down the sides of three centre backs saw the score finish Spurs 2-0 Arsenal in the last North London Derby at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham ripped the makeshift Arsenal back three to shreds as they swept forward in waves. Outside centre backs Gabriel and Nacho Monreal were picked apart by deft movement to isolate and expose them. The score finished a comfortable Spurs 2-0 Arsenal but it could’ve been many more.
Press vs half-hearted pressure
Derby matches, especially a North London Derby, are expected to open quickly. The game did as both teams tried to restrict time and space on the ball. Spurs went about their usual quick closing down. Arsenal half-heartedly tried to do the same.
Arsenal’s pressure was intended as they wanted to disrupt us building from the back. However, they were let down by the lackadaisical effort of Mesut Ozil. The Gunners tried to push up with their front three, backed by Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey.
Ozil was tasked with shutting down Jan Vertonghen and his half-hearted effort allowed us break out from this flank many times during the match.
Spurs down the left
Mesut Ozil’s slackness had a knock-on effect for those behind. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at wing back was often left 2v1 against Ben Davies and Son Heung-Min on this flank. Right-sided centre back, Gabriel, was thus also often drawn out to help.
Arsenal’s first warning was after just 25 seconds. The astute Eric Dier found Dele Alli, which drew out Gabriel. Seeing this, the predatory Harry Kane snuck in to the channel down the side, as Arsenal’s three centre backs were stretched.
We can see exactly what Spurs were trying to do in the following short clip. Jan Vertonghen has time and space to pick his pass, as Mesut Ozil is slow to close him down. The German jogs forward and then stops ten yards away. Vertonghen can spray a beautiful chipped pass down the line to Ben Davies. Arsenal is immediately on the retreat and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is left 2v1 as Son Heung-Min gains possession. Both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gabriel are drawn inside creating space for Davies to cross.
This pattern happened time and again and was a major factor in one of the biggest chances of the first half. The excellent Victor Wanyama playing an exquisite ball for Son to run in-behind down the sides of the three centre backs.
Son fired down the line, jinked inside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, only for Christian Eriksen to shoot over the bar.
Spurs down the right
Gabriel and Oxlade-Chamberlain were being let down by Mesut Ozil. On the other side, Alexis Sanchez, was more interested in attacking than aiding Kieran Gibbs and converted centre back Nacho Monreal.
Monreal’s positioning was often erratic. He was having trouble with the movement of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. The Dane drifting inside off the line and Dele making runs from between the lines saw him in fits over who to cover. It opened the door for Harry Kane.
Spurs had got down the sides of Arsenal’s back three to create Eriksen’s glorious chance that skimmed off the bar. Minutes earlier and Harry Kane had exposed Monreal’s positioning to create and even better chance for Dele Alli.
Eric Dier had the ball on the halfway line. Nacho Monreal was attracted out of the back three by Dele Alli’s positioning.
Kane snuck off the back of Monreal and down the side of the three centre backs who were all over the place. Laurent Koscielny raced after him, but could only deflect Kane’s shot up in the air. Arriving at the back post, Dele Alli somehow construed to glance the header wide when any kind of firmer contact would’ve seen the ball nestle in the back of the net.
Spurs down the sides of the centre backs to score
Getting down the sides of Arsenal’s back three had created the two biggest chances of the first half.
At half time, Mauricio Pochettino made an interesting change. Son Heung-Min and Ben Davies had been superb at exposing Ozil’s positioning to get at Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gabriel. However, Pochettino switched Son to other flank.
The manager did this for two reasons. Firstly, to expose the brittle combination of two left backs on that side of Arsenal’s defence. The dysfunction between Gibbs and Monreal had become increasingly apparent and we weren’t attacking it enough. Christian Eriksen drifting inside wasn’t going at this. A combination of Son and Kieran Trippier would start to expose this space.
Secondly, Alexis Sanchez was coming in to the game as an increasing force. Sanchez had unleashed two fizzing shots towards the end of the first half from the corner of our penalty area. Moving Son Heung-Min to this side was an attempt to force Sanchez back towards his own goal to help Gibbs and Monreal behind.
Sanchez didn’t really take any notice and continued to play high. It was a minor factor that compounded in to a major problem, as Spurs took the lead by getting down the side of Arsenal’s three centre backs once more.
Arsenal was trying to press as Hugo Lloris threw the ball over Sanchez to Kieran Trippier. We ended up gaining a throw in that Trippier took extremely quickly. Sanchez was stood by the thrower and didn’t react. In a split second, Arsenal went from a position of being solid to in disarray.
The throw put Harry Kane right on Arsenal’s back line as he pinned Gabriel. Monreal and Koscielny were caught too high. Kane was therefore allowed to get down the side of them.
What followed was a series of knock-on events created by Spurs electric movement and Arsenal’s slowness to respond.
The move continued with Kane and Alli, both of whom could get down the sides of Arsenal’s three centre backs. Christian Eriksen then drifted in to the space beyond a static Kieran Gibbs before buzzing in to the box.
The ball ended up falling to Dele Alli who was quickest to react. Dele swept the ball home past Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s awkward clearance on the line. White Hart Lane erupted in epic scenes of celebration as Tottenham had the goal that our play had deserved, Spurs 1-0 Arsenal.
Watch the goal and see the chaos unfold from Trippier’s quick throw. How Harry Kane and Dele Alli get down the sides of the Arsenal back three. Watch Christian Eriksen’s deft movement to get in to the space behind Kieran Gibbs before moving inside to pick up the ball. A brilliant passage of play that created maximum controlled disarray.
The Lane was still celebrating when Harry Kane was fouled for a penalty. Once more, Kane was attacking down the sides of Arsenal’s back three as he was tripped by right-sided centre back, Gabriel.
Harry Kane coolly tucked away the spot kick to make it Spurs 2-0 Arsenal and the roof of the Lane almost came off.
Two goals in two minutes from twice attacking down the sides of the Arsenal centre backs.
Victor Wanyama, who had an excellent game, brilliantly pressed Granit Xhaka in the build up. Wanyama swarmed and overpowered the lightweight defensive midfielder to win the ball back and tee up Kane’s run down the side of the three centre backs.
The simple chance-creating pass was one of a number that Victor played in the game in a slightly adjusted role. Starting alongside Eric Dier in the pivot of our 4-2-3-1 Wanyama played a much more advanced and attacking role than his partner.
Distribution is often the factor that impedes the Dier and Wanyama base of our defensive midfield. In this match, Wanyama certainly addressed that. The burly Kenyan not only bullied Arsenal all over the pitch, but he instigated a number of key moves.
Wanyama’s exquisite pass with the outside of his boot released Son down the sidelines when Eriksen clipped the bar with the goal gaping. Victor then won and played in Kane to win the penalty. At Spurs 2-0 Arsenal Wanyama played in Kane’s run, once more down the sides of the back three, which should’ve seen another goal.
Spurs set pieces
Not content to be two goals up, Spurs wanted to finish Arsenal off. A string of set pieces followed as Tottenham tried to get down the sides of Arsenal’s back three and ended up winning a spate of corners.
Chances followed as Spurs exploited Arsenal’s zonal system. Victor Wanyama teed up Jan Vertonghen to curl a sumptuous effort that Petr Cech tipped around the post. Toby Alderweireld had a trademark near post header saved. Son Heung-Min clipped the angle of post and side netting. After Alexis Sanchez used his arm to stop Son chipping the ball back over him, the game’s second penalty should’ve been awarded. Corners were causing chaos.
Spurs new system?
With the score now Spurs 2-0 Arsenal, both managers made changes. Pounded down the sides of his three centre backs, Arsene Wenger reverted to a back four. Mauricio Pochettino has been tinker happy with team shapes and personnel of late. With ten minutes to go and with the game safe at Spurs 2-0 Arsenal, he gave us another look.
Pochettino introduced Mousa Dembele and went to a 4-3-3 with an immensely powerful midfield trio. Dembele sat alongside Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama; nothing was going to get through the middle.
The match ended with the final score Spurs 2-0 Arsenal and victory in the last North London Derby at White Hart Lane achieved at a canter.
Spurs 2-0 Arsenal overall
Mauling Arsenal in the wake of learning that Chelsea had won is testament to how far our team has come this season. Nothing was going to knock this group off their stride.
The most apt statistic after the game was just how much farther Spurs had run. Tottenham covered 10km more than the Gunners, but this wasn’t unnecessary movement chasing the ball. It was purposeful closing down and clinical attacking runs, highlighting how much our team outworks the opposition.
Mauricio Pochettino got our tactics spot on. Arsenal’s makeshift back three was rife for attacking down the sides to pull them all over the place. Two goals were the result of going at outside centre backs Nacho Monreal and Gabriel. And, it could’ve been many more.
Final score: Spurs 2-0 Arsenal.
MOTM: Victor Wanyama.