An awesome display of pressing and precision movement down our left sees the North London derby finish Spurs 2-1 Arsenal earning three vital Premier League points.
Immense, awesome, passionate and precision are all superlatives to describe the Kane-ing Arsenal got here. Our number eighteen took the applause, the plaudits and the headlines, but this was a team effort that simply overpowered a limp and insipid opposition.
Right from the kick off we aimed to control both the tempo and direction of the game. Just like last season, Arsene Wenger’s side showed-up content to play on the counter attack, but here they were hemmed in by some extremely precise pressing.
Much has been made of the extra fitness and endurance of this current Tottenham side. So much so that on average we are covering an extra 6km per game in recent matches compared to the start of the season. The closing down here wasn’t headless chicken stuff, but highly co-ordinated. It was arguably better than the 5-3 win over Chelsea as players pressed from zones.
This meant that wherever they were when the ball was turned over, the man who lost it would be first in. This would be followed by whoever was in the closest positional zone. So, if Dembele had drifted out to the right and Lamela had gone inside him, the two just seamlessly switched defensive positions and roles. Dembele would press the full back, whilst Lamela would be in on the defensive midfielder. Players were quick to close and did so with an added punch and bite to challenges. It was awesome to watch a Spurs team control the game in this way.
Defined left side movement
Whilst the pressing was one excellent part of the play from Spurs, the other fascinating tactical battle came down our left side. This was highly noticeable throughout the first half, but the intricacies of it were maybe not highlighted enough.
Whilst the inside drifting movement of Christian Eriksen from the left side in to central areas is nothing new, his starting position was something we’ve seen less of. The Dane was really out wide hugging the touchline when the ball was over on the other side in order to stretch Arsenal as much as possible.
Much has been made of the compact White Hart Lane surface and with Arsenal playing so deep, every inch of it needed to be used.
Eriksen was pulling out as wide as he could and then moving inside once the ball started to come his way. This created even more space than usual for Danny Rose on the overlap as the Arsenal right back, Hector Bellerin, was tasked with tracking Eriksen. This seemed like a strange decision from Wenger, as his full back was often pulled in to central areas, leaving Rose wide open as Danny Welbeck struggled to regain the ground to track him.
Rose was firing forward from his position at left back and created several good crossing opportunities, as well as two efforts fired across the Arsenal goal.
He first of all fizzed an effort past the post; later he forced Ospina in to a diving save that he just managed to tip away for a corner.
Despite the excellent closing down and play down our left, Arsenal took the lead from a counter attack. Arsene Wenger was content to set up this way and after an initial raid where they got numbers forward, they edged in front from a breakaway down our left, where a lot of the action was happening.
Arsenal quickly got the ball behind our initial wave of pressure, as a challenge between Mousa Dembele and Aaron Ramsey saw they ball go straight to Olivier Giroud. This took Eriksen, Dembele, Mason and Bentaleb out of the play, but Jan Vertonghen also sold himself, which was to be the root of our problems seconds later.
Vertonghen likes to play on the front foot and go for the interception and we’ve seen it cause us trouble in recent games. His diving in here by going to ground meant that he was also out of the game as the ball went wide to Danny Welbeck.
Welbeck knocked the ball past Danny Rose and beat him in a foot race. The wide forward is not known for blistering pace, but his long stride saw him outrun the usually rapid Rose. This brought Eric Dier over on the cover and without any centre backs and Giroud closing, Kyle Walker had to also rotate over to challenge the Frenchman who was coming on to the ball.
Giroud’s miss-hit shot turned in to an excellent pass, as it went straight to the now wide-open Mesut Ozil, who calmly volleyed in past the helpless Hugo Lloris.
The goal was against the run of play, but just what Arsene Wenger was hoping for from his counter attacking tactics. It was a rare Arsenal foray forward in a half where pressing and the overlapping movement down our left were seeing us create the better chances.
At half time, having seen his side pushed back and opened up down our left by Eriksen and Rose, Arsene Wenger made two switches.
The first was to have Hector Bellerin stay out on that side rather than tracking Eriksen in-field. This slowed down Rose, but didn’t stop our overall attack from this flank.
The second change was to have his team be slightly more aggressive and try to play higher up. In the opening exchanges this caused us a few problems, but it lasted for all of about 10 minutes. Mauricio Pochettino had obviously urged us to go out and push for an early equaliser and the Gunners were forced back by the incessant waves of pressing. This ended up hemming them in to their half, as we pushed further and further forward and they dropped deeper and deeper with fatigue setting in.
Our centre backs were up camped in the Arsenal half as Dembele, Mason and Bentaleb continued to win back and recycle the ball.
Arsenal were trying to take away the centre, but despite their best efforts, players were able to get loose between the lines. Just prior to the corner from which we equalised, Mousa Dembele threaded the ball through a pack of Arsenal players to find the youngster in acres of space.
Mason’s shot was deflected for a corner, as Arsenal were collapsing incredibly deep inside their own half with even their striker (Giroud) drawn in. The ensuing set piece would see us level the score.
Harry Kane was once again immense in this match and his movement was causing Arsenal no end of problems. With the Rose, Eriksen combination down the left, he was also drifting out to this side in order to get some room, but on top of this, he was trying to run in-behind.
We were looking forward for him with quick passing, that saw him caught offside five times, highlighted by the red lines below.
He was coming short in the build-up, but then playing on the shoulder of the last defender, as he sought to sneak-in looking for rebounds on any shots fired from range.
His stealthy movement was also present on scoring the equaliser. Arsenal’s Zonal marking system was set up to take away anything at the near post by having four men in this area. They couldn’t get to grips with Dembele, as he used his size to get in to the header first.
Ospina palmed the ball away and up in the air, but Kane snuck in-behind Aaron Ramsey who was caught looking in at the back post.
With the constant pressure building up, the breakthrough had finally come from a set piece. It was a major blow at a critical time and as Kane wheeled away to the jubilant cheers, Arsenal looked out on their feet and there for the taking.
The goal visibly lifted our side and Arsenal slunk deeper and deeper towards their goal. Arsene Wenger tried to freshen up their counter attacking threat to get out of their half and force us back by introducing speed. Tomas Rosicky and then Theo Walcott were brought on, but Arsenal struggled to get any time on the ball or even move it forward to them.
Scoring in the last five minutes of matches has become inevitable under Mauricio Pochettino. The fitness work put in on the training ground is paying serious dividends now, as we are earning winners through the hard yards invested in-between matches.
With the amount of success we’d had down the left, it was only fitting that it would arrive from this flank. Danny Rose got forward with the ball and whereas in the first half he found space, this time Bellerin, who’d been told to hold his position, met him.
This didn’t matter as Rose earned a throw-in that he quickly took to move the ball back to Nabil Bentaleb. With Arsenal tiring and sinking deeper in to their own half, the Algerian had time and space.
Whilst Bentaleb was sizing up his cross, Harry Kane had pulled away from Per Mertesacker and on to the smaller Laurent Koscielny. This was a vital piece of movement from the youngster, as it got him away from the larger German who had been winning their aerial duels.
With Erik Lamela taking up a position just behind Kane to occupy Nacho Monreal, this left the striker 1v1 with the smaller Koscielny. The ball in was superb and Kane’s leap backwards saw him create the space he needed to execute a perfectly weighted header back across goal. Ospina had no chance as the ball arced in to the far corner with precision placement.
The game was up and as we looked at in the keys to Spurs vs Arsenal, a team that gets the ball in to the box to create close-range shooting opportunities had once more undone the Gunners with two goals.
As Kane slid towards the corner flag, the elation on his face was immeasurable, just as it was in the stands as the Lane exploded with joy. Arsenal had been defeated and the Tottenham team effort had blown them off the park.
Spurs 2-1 Arsenal overall
This performance was up their with the win over Chelsea, quite possibly better from a pressing standpoint, as we closed and harried relentlessly.
“We played with our brain, showed passion and emotion, this is what is important to me to recognise this energy” said a delighted Mauricio Pochettino afterwards.
Once more, as I’ve previously written, we are looking like more of ‘team’ under his stewardship. One that has been galvanised by seeing what it can do on the pitch from understanding and executing what our head coach wants. The players are now fitter; know their roles and also what is expected of them when they step on the field. This has bred a belief that our game and playing style will overcome the opposition.
Arsenal were worn down in to submission, but the next test comes quickly at Anfield, where Pochettino will have to ensure we don’t suffer a hangover from this fine showing.
Final score: Spurs 2-1 Arsenal.