What a game and what a result! Two strikes in two minutes from two identical passes put us seven points clear of the Gunners in the Premier League, as it finished Spurs 2 Arsenal 1 at the Lane.
Arsenal dominated the possession by 60% to 40% and controlled large chunks of the match, but we made more of the ball and were clinical when we had it. As a result, the better chances, and more importantly the three points, went our way due to Arsenal’s inability to defend.
Arsenal set up and tactics
Arsene Wenger set his team up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, opting for a trio of passers in the centre of his midfield. In recent weeks he has used Abou Diaby as both a defensive force and to add a drive from deeper, but instead focussed on retaining possession in this match.
With Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all in the middle to start with, Arsenal had 3v2 in this area for much of the game. Gareth Bale was playing quite high in his new number ten role, leaving Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele to cope in the middle of the park. This allowed the Gunners to dominate possession and recycle play, but didn’t afford them too many clean-cut chances due to our defensive pressing.
In the wide positions, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott were both playing very narrow. The Spaniard was coming inside looking to pick out through balls, as he did when setting Oliver Giroud through on goal only to be brilliantly tackled by Jan Vertonghen. On the other side, the Englishman was trying to play as a support striker and sneak in down the inside right channel. Benoit Assou-Ekotto was excellent at tracking his runs, but this did have a knock-on effect.
With Cazorla and Walcott operating narrow, this allowed the Gunners’ full backs to get forward. I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Arsenal at how Nacho Monreal was getting in to advanced positions to cross down the left since his arrival. Here, it was Carl Jenkinson down the right who was getting free due to Walcott coming inside and Assou-Ekotto tracking him. The right back got in to several good crossing locations, but couldn’t find a decisive final pass with either Hugo Lloris smothering them or Dawson and Vertonghen clearing.
Defences under pressure
Although Arsenal could have profited from Walcott dragging Assou-Ekotto inside, the game was more about both teams playing a high defensive line.
We have become accustomed to operating this way under Andre Villas-Boas, whereas Arsenal usually don’t play this high. Their two centre backs operate with Thomas Vermaelen coming towards the ball looking to intercept it, whereas Per Mertesacker often plays clean up behind.
With a high defensive line, the two centre backs need to be in-sync with each other, whilst pressure needs to be applied to the opposition man in possession. Whilst Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen looked calm and assured, Vermaelen and Mertesacker where often caught operating at different levels.
This cost them on both of our goals. For the first, Vermaelen was drawn to the ball going for the interception due to no one closing down Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Then for the second, Aaron Lennon snuck in with Per Mertesacker being drawn out this time, much like he was on our first goal in Arsenal 5 Spurs 2 at the Emirates.
Thomas Vermaelen was unaware of the diminutive winger cutting in-behind him, getting caught ball watching, probably anticipating an interception, and was left on his heels.
I’ve talked a lot this season about Spurs creating chances from passes played through the defence; even as recently as last week in the post “What’s up with the form of Aaron Lennon?”
The England international has not been getting forward enough in recent weeks, looking to gain through passes towards the penalty area as he was earlier in the season. It was good to see us profit from two balls slid in to runners cutting through an opposition back four and Lennon to cash-in from one of them.
The pass for both goals was played from our inside left channel, whilst the runner went in between Vermaelen and his full back, Nacho Monreal. Gylfi Sigurdsson was heavily involved in both, but for very different reasons.
Gylfi Sigurdsson creates both goals, almost.
Gylfi Sigurdsson created the first and played a major part in opening up the space for the second. He could have also had a goal himself had he not tried to square it to Gareth Bale, when it seemed easier to round Wojciech Szczesny.
The game really opened up for Gylfi Sigurdsson as it went along. With Theo Walcott moving inside, the Icelandic international was able to drift in to central areas of the pitch and influence the game. From there, he could look to play through balls from better angles than if he had played as a wide midfielder. His pass to Gareth Bale for the opening goal was his third attempted through ball of the match, but his first that was successful.
After playing in Bale to open the scoring, two minutes later his tackle left Santi Cazorla on the floor in the midfield zone. This allowed Scott Parker to recover the ball and drive forward in to the space that had opened up. Theo Walcott was caught up field looking for a through pass from Cazorla and as a result there was no cover for the defence. Parker then played an almost identical pass to allow Lennon to make it two.
All in all it was a good game for Gylfi, which opened up even more with Arsenal’s changes. Tomas Rosicky replaced Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey was moved to right back. The Welshman was tasked with getting forward from deeper, something Jenkinson had done quite well, but his final pass is not of the quality of Ramsey’s.
This left space in the right back zone on more than one occasion, the most significant of which saw Gylfi get in one-on-one with Szczesny. Sigurdsson elected to pass rather than round the keeper after a heavy first touch and the chance was gone.
Spurs’ defending is immense
Arsenal’s high line was being exploited, but Spurs defending held up under heavy fire.
It started from the front, where both our number nine and ten are expected to pressure the opposition centre backs this season, forcing them to either go long or back to the keeper. This then creates turnovers from kicks downfield as there is no out ball and both Bale and Adebayor were energetic in closing down all game.
At the back, Michael Dawson was solid in the air, whilst Jan Vertonghen was effective on the ground. His block when Giroud was through on goal highlighted what an excellent game he was having.
Behind them, Hugo Lloris was putting on another goalkeeping clinic. Whether it was racing from his line to clean up a through ball, coming for a catch or smothering a low crosses at his near post, he was in complete control of his area.
Swatting the ball clear in a congested six-yard box on Arsenal’s final corner at the death only served to highlight another quietly impressive display. As Lloris pushed the ball away from the danger area, Arsenal’s chances went with it.
Spurs 2 Arsenal 1 conclusions
Arsene Wenger really played in to Andre Villas-Boas’ hands in this one. Arsenal wanted to compress the space between their defence and midfield for two reasons. Firstly, to give Gareth Bale less time on the ball. Secondly, but more importantly, to get possession for their three central midfielders to dictate the tempo and put passes in behind our high line. But they played too far up the pitch. By squeezing up, they left too much space in behind their own lines, something that both Spurs and in particular Gareth Bale thrive on.
Despite our lack of possession, we were able to create a number of opportunities from through balls, whereas Arsenal created very few. Oliver Giroud’s lack of pace and Theo Walcott’s inability to time his runs contributed to their downfall in this game of ‘get in-behind.’
The inside left channel was the real key to our victory. Theo Walcott moving inside opened this zone up for Gylfi Sigurdsson and both our goals were created through here.
Final score: Spurs 2 Arsenal 1