Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur | North London derbies are not often looked upon with much excitement on a tactical aspect. The sheer emotion involved in the deep running rivalry between the two clubs seems to overwhelm that aspect. We’ve been usually treated with fantastic open matches such as that 4-4 draw in 2008 and the 5-2 Arsenal victory in 2012. However, on this occasion we were forced through a bit of a drab match with neither side exactly justifying any claims for a Champions league place.
Pragmatic Pocchettino lets Arsenal play their game
Arsenal set up in what has been their standard shape of 4-1-4-1 this season. Putting Sanchez on the bench was a slight surprise from Arsene Wenger who went in favour of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, a more passing, creative and out and out winger over the formers’ more direct finishing threat. Meszut Ozil was once again pushed out onto the left flank even after his outstanding performance against Aston Villa. This game he was provided with a greater freedom as a wide man, constantly combining and interchanging with the left sided shuttler Jack Wilshere. It was a hybrid between a no 10 and a classical winger. Arsenal’s other flank too was a similar approach with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain breaking out high upfield making a number of penetrating runs and combining well with Aaron Ramsey. Throughout The game, the narrowness of the midfield four was well made up by full backs Gibbs and Chambers (both of who completed over 50 passes by the end of the game).
Arsenal though weren’t really made to labour far too much to control possession. Spurs boss Mauricio Pocchettino who at Southampton received rave reviews for his brand of bustling high tempo and high pressing philosophy, set up Spurs in an extremely negative manner, intent on soaking up pressure and biting with quick sharp counter attacks (not for the first time this season mind you). Chadli played almost in line with Adebayor in a 4-3-3 which was meant to spring into a 4-4-2 when Tottenham break. Spurs needed someone to make penetrating runs with pace into the opposition penalty box, something Adebayor has looked uncomfortable at and hasn’t been able to provide for the team. Spurs Midfield was set deep and were instructed not to press Arsenal in fear of conceding space between the lines, which allowed the gunners to effortlessly control the game with plentiful time and space at their disposal. Rose and Naugthon were instructed to stay extremely narrow to force Arsenal from cutting inside and into goal, making them rely greatly on crosses. Despite the domination in possession, Arsenal were faced with their familiar problem of being unable to transition their possession into a final product of attempts on goal. At the end of the first half, they had just two shots on target to show for their control of the game. There were plenty of instances wherein they should have just taken the goalkeeper on with a shot, rather than overcomplicating things by passing too intricately and trying to repeatedly score, “The Arsenal type of goal”.
Spurs looking creatively challenged as an attacking force
The spurs game plan was heavily invested in the counter attack. When they did manage to break away quickly (which happened a good several times), their lack of a final ball sorely let them down. When they did have the ball to create chances in non-counter attacking situations, they looked uncomfortably lost. They merely moved play between lines and ended up misplacing direct passes. It was almost as if they didn’t want the ball and were better off defending without it, almost making it hard to believe that Pochettino was their Coach. The duo of Lamela and Eriksen who were hailed as Pochettino’s two creative masterminds were highly unspectacular on this occasion, having no clear end product in mind with their passing being hopeful rather than purposeful throughout a draggy first half.
The second half though showed spurs with greater tempo. They began pressing well and hustling the Arsenal players off the space they thrived on throughout the first half. Lamela in particular began to involve himself far more, trying a number of penetrating runs which Tottenham had so sorely missed in the first half. The game began opening and was going end to end for a frantic period. The Spurs opener, though still was very much against the run of play was as a direct result of their greater energy. Eriksen made his perhaps only telling contribution of the game when he robbed the ball off substitute Flamini as Arsenal played out from the back, with Lamela providing a good pass for Chadli to smoothly finish. The game was setup now as Spurs once again went into their shells to see the game through.
Forced changes bring out the best in Ozil and the Ox
Ozil and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain are similar in the respect that both players are denied from playing at their favoured positions due to Arsenal’s commitment to a three man midfield (however excellent the three players may be). The way Arsenal shaped up against Spurs, both were given the liberty of cutting inside from their initial wide positions. Ozil while looking much less out of place than he has for a large part of these opening weeks, still was a far cry from maximising his potential. On the day, Ozil was tasked with playing too many short and safer passes to build the play up from wide, rather than to provide the killer ball to the forward sprinting ahead.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on the other hand looked good cutting inside and was far more direct than Ozil in his play using his pace. The biggest problem for him though was that the deep sitting Tottenham pivot rarely gave him the space to run at the defence- as anyone will tell you, Chamberlain’s biggest strength in central midfield and on the wings. As a result, he too was forced to settle to just an exchange of simple passes and largely unsuccessful crosses most of the time. One such occasion he was allowed to run out and stretch his legs a bit in the first half, from the left (having swapped wings with Ozil), he unleashed a shot from outside the box forcing Hugo Lloris to make a fine save diving low to his left; Arsenal’s best chance of the half.
Injuries to Arteta and Ramsey meant for a small part of the first half and the second half, Arsenal were re-shaped as a 4-2-3-1 with Ozil as the trequarista and Chamberlain as a right sided winger with Santi Carzola from the left. Ozil for his part, immediately began re-clicking at his favoured position and just as against Aston Villa was able to combine in one-two’s and was able to pick out the three attackers in front of him with greater penetration of the Spurs defensive line. His greater involvement with direct passes looked just liked what Arsenal needed to get through the resolute Spurs defence.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on the other hand when shifted out wide was given greater space to run into owing to Tottenham’s narrow fullbacks. His dual threat of running through behind the fullbacks into the penalty box and as a source of crosses too began to unsettle the Spurs defence. One such drifting inward run saw him perfectly in place to finish off a chance ball which went off a Tottenham centre back, one that really should have been finished by Welbeck in the first place.
Despite their best efforts the winning goal never quite came for the Gunners as they settled for a draw.
Where does this leave them?
In all honesty, the game was hardly a thriller. It was ragged and scrappy, and only began to shift gears forward through the second half. For Tottenham, the biggest positive was their impressive defence. Captain Kaboul and Vertonghen looked very solid and thwarted most Arsenal attacks. In front of them, the double pivot of Capoue and 23 year old debutant Ryan Mason carried out their basic duties well, putting in a tough tackling performance denying the Gunners space to run into. The attack though can hardly be spoken of with much praise as they looked quite dismal.
Arsenal on the other hand were far too wasteful with possession. Their struggle to create any clear cut chances will surely continue to frustrate Arsene Wenger. Arsenal’s biggest problem seems to be themselves, as Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s good performance and Ozil’s deftness at his no 10 role only further complicates Aresnal’s midfield conundrum. Sanchez may have been better suited to breaking down Spurs, but Chamberlain ended up justifying his selection.
Both these teams who were touted as the usual strong contenders for Champions League spots have had fairly under par starts. With the other game between Liverpool and Everton also ending as a draw, it wouldn’t be too presumptuous to say the Champions league race is already looking quite complicated and filled with twist and turns.
Written by Nikhil Krishna
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