The 7th of February will be remembered at the end of the season as an important day for football, what with the sheer number of big games and derby matches on show. Fans had a ball with all the action on show. The day kicked off with Tottenham Hotspur entertaining their big London rivals, Arsenal.
The atmosphere at White Hart Lane was charged, with fans looking to give their side any possible advantage in a game that was surely going to be very difficult. Both sides came into the match almost neck and neck. Just 2 points separated them, with the form books making for identical reading; Blue Square’s news feed showing exactly that. Spurs had made their way into the League Cup final, and had Kane and Eriksen looking good. The away side too, was looking in good shape coming into this match. Ozil and Walcott had just returned from injury, and were looking dangerous, while the side in general was playing with a new found confidence, after a stunning win at the Etihad on their last Premier League trip.
Tottenham: Lloris; Walker; Dier; Vertonghen; Rose; Bentaleb; Mason; Dembele; Lamela; Eriksen; Kane.
Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin; Mertesacker; Koscielny; Nacho; Coquelin; Ramsey; Cazorla; Welbeck; Ozil; Giroud.
Substitutions: Chadli – Dembele; Stambouli – Lamela; Paulinho – Mason // Rosicky – Cazorla; Walcott – Welbeck; Akpom – Coquelin.
Goals: Kane 56′, 86′ // Ozil 11′
Arsenal channeling Etihad game plan
One of the most stunning Arsenal performances in recent times came a few weeks ago when Arsenal traveled to Manchester to square off with the champions at the Etihad. On that occasion, they shocked the world by playing with a deep defensive line, and looking hit City on the break. The plan worked, as they came away with a terrific 0-2 win, not to mention praise from all quarters. Wenger took inspiration from that success, and once again set his side up to play on the break.
44% is rather definitely not what the Gunners are used to, but this is the possession they clocked up on the day. The side were quite happy to stay deep, and allow Spurs to have the ball in their own half, and less dangerous areas of the pitch. The Gunners were more pleased to stay back in their own third of the pitch, and absorb the pressure. The space between the lines was greatly reduced, and Spurs found it very hard to play through the Arsenal side. The shape too, was changed to add another man in the middle of the park. The usual 4-2-3-1 gave way to a 4-3-3, with Cazorla and Ramsey in front of Francis Coquelin.
This looked like a smart tactic, especially in the first half, as Spurs hardly managed to trouble Arsenal. They struggled to get in behind the Arsenal defence, and create any chances of note. Out of the 23 shots that they had over the course of the 90 minutes, 15 were from outside the penalty area, and Arsenal were quite happy to keep it this way.
Spurs exploiting wide areas
Arsenal were quite resolute in the middle of the pitch, and had numbers and depth in their defensive ranks. Spurs’ attempts at breaking them down were quite futile, and as mentioned above didn’t lead to much other than long range efforts. In response, Pochettino encouraged his side to get down the wings, and attack through the wide areas.
This was already happening in the first half, quite naturally. Eriksen started the game on the left wing, but constantly drifted inside, and got closer to the middle. Hector Bellerin was probably asked to keep track of the Dane, and he too, consequently got very narrow and close to Per Mertesacker. This naturally left the left wing open, with space for a good win battle between Welbeck and Rose. Both the young English players looked to attack down the flank, with each one being quite successful in their own right. Welbeck looked to have the edge in the opening stages of the game. He burned Rose for pace for the opening Arsenal goal, and looked a lot more impressive, but to the defender’s credit, he worked his way into the game, and forced Welbeck to turn around and defend.
As you can see in the image above, Arsenal too, were looking to force the Spurs play wide. The three forwards are all quite narrow, and trying to block off passing lanes in the middle of the pitch.
The second half saw this phenomenon grow more pronounced. Spurs then deliberately looked to work their play through the wide areas and get the ball in the box. The equalizer came from a corner, and there was a memorable exchange right after the goal where Spurs bombarded the area with crosses, and Arsenal hung on. The major turning point came when Nacer Chadli was also thrown into the mix. It allowed Eriksen to move into the middle, and added a man to the battle on the left wing. This worked out very well for the home side, who eventually got the winner after Kane scored a cross from the left hand side.
Arsenal lacking thrust in attack
The major difference between the performance at White Hart Lane and the Etihad was the attacking thrust that the Gunners had on the break. The likes of Cazorla really took charge of that game, leading from the front, and really causing City all sorts of problems. However, this wasn’t really the case against Spurs. The goal that they scored came after Spurs missed a transition and Welbeck took advantage.
What was quite clear was the inability of Mesut Ozil to play in a wide area. Alexis may not have scored or assisted against City, but he did have a major influence with his powerful running, and defensive work. Ozil couldn’t really stop Kyle Walker, and couldn’t push him back either, because of a distinct lack of pace. Indeed, with the exception of the goal, the talented German was virtually absent.
In general, Arsenal failed to really gain a foothold of any sort in an attacking sense. They got 4 shots off from inside the area, but hardly troubled Lloris in the Spurs goal.
The home side too, deserves credit for this. Spurs under Pochettino have developed their pressing game very well. They managed to press Chelsea too in a previous game, and this time too, the Arsenal midfielders found it difficult to dictate the game. Bentaleb, Dembele, and Mason were fantastic in the midfield, with Mason in particular having a fantastic game.
Spurs action areas via squawka.com
As you can see in the image above, Spurs played most of their game in Arsenal’s half. There were large portions of the game where they maintained continuous pressure on the Arsenal back line, and penned their rivals into their own penalty area. Again, full credit is due to Pochettino, and the midfielders. Especially Mason, who had a great game, roaming around the field to dictate the Spurs attacks.
Where does this leave them?
Coming into the game, both sides had very similar tasks, and were in very similar positions on the table. The fact that Spurs picked up a win puts them at an advantage in the race for the Champions League spots, but really, there still isn’t much to choose between the 2 sides.
Despite the defeat, Wenger and Arsenal will not feel too deflated. They have their stars coming back, and coming into form, and there is still a long way to go before any awards are handed out. If they can keep up their performances, they will surely be in an around their beloved fourth spot.
As for Spurs, their fans now officially have a cult hero. Harry Kane made the difference in a tight fixture. He had 2 good chances, and put them both away, with the second being a majestic headed finish. This win will give Poch, and his charges, a great amount of confidence. The table needs a little readjustment, as it only added 3 points to their total, rather than the 6 they earned today.
Written by Vishal Patel