There seems to be a shifting of power in England’s capital city. With the ‘Lilywhites’ of North London rising high in the league and competing with London’s more dominating duo of Arsenal and Chelsea. Spurs faced their fierce rivals Arsenal on Sunday night. The game finished Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal, a result which saw the home side leapfrog the Blues of London and extend their lead over the Gunners.
The game strengthened Tottenham’s push for a Champions League spot and possibly 2nd as well (they are 2 points behind City who have a game in had). The win would particularly please young manager Andre Villas Boas who has won over the Spurs fan, and seen his side move above a club who only a year back had sacked him for a poor run of results.
The game also highlighted Arsenal’s dip in form in the past few seasons with a push for a Champions League spot their only aim for the end of the season.
The midfield combination of Wilshere, Cazorla and Ramsey were key to Arsenal’s dominance of the game in the early exchanges. The trio formed little triangles and moved the ball around the Spurs midfield quickly,creating opportunities for through balls. This pattern continued for much of the first half,as Spurs found it hard to break up the play in this area.
Another clear pattern one could notice was their insistence on getting the ball into wide areas and relying on Monreal and Jenkinson to fire crosses into the box. Due to the fact that Bale (especially) was drifting in as he has tended to recently,Jenkinson got a number of chances to get forward and cross the ball.
Sadly for the Gunners,none of the crosses reaped positive results. The failure can be attributed to the fact that most crosses were played all along the ground,into a crowded penalty area, as opposed to in the air. This is surprising,because Olivier Giroud has the highest number of headers on target in the league this season. A few more whipped balls may have resulted in more chances for Arsenal.
In terms of their defending for the goals,the blame falls on the pressing,or the lack of it. Arsenal chose to play a high line, and when doing so, it was imperative that they pressed the man on the ball at all times. Doing so would deny the player time and space to pick passes to players running into the empty spaces behind the defense. However, this pressing was notably absent for both the goals, as Bale and Lennon were picked out with ease.
Another crucial mistake came from the back four. In the absence of pressure, they needed to drop off, and track their runners, but they collectively failed to apply themselves, and hence paid the ultimate price.
In the second half, Arsenal needed to chase the game,and switched to a more attacking strategy. Walcott played through the middle, and Rosicky came on. Giroud moved slightly to the left, but Arsenal basically played in a 4-1-3-2 with Arteta and eventually Wilshere playing the role of the holding midfielder. The aim was to shift the direction of the attacks into the centre, and exploit Walcott’s pace to get behind Dawson and Verthongen. The tactic didn’t pay off as the Tottenham defense dropped a little deeper,and most through balls were lapped up by an on-rushing Lloris.
Since the sale of van Persie, Arsenal haven’t been the same force going forward. This was demonstrated by Giroud and his performance against Tottenham. The Frenchman worked hard and executed certain aspects of his game well, but lacked the movement to create space for himself and get into goal scoring positions. He wasn’t helped by the fact that his opponent, Verthongen had a very good game.
The home side started with their usual 4-3-3, with Sigurdsson, Dembele and Parker patrolling the midfield. Up front, Adebayor was accompanied by Bale and Lennon.
The Spurs defense held a deep line, and the midfielders didn’t press too well. This allowed Arsenal to seize control initially, and Tottenham were forced to play on the break. This suits Tottenham and the direct passing coupled with pace down the flanks ensured that they were a constant threat.
Of late, Bale has been drifting into more central positions to influence the game more, and this has worked devastatingly well for Spurs. In this game too, he moved in very often,and got closer to Adebayor. This outside to in movement is dangerous because it’s hard to track, difficult to allocate in terms of defensive responsibility, and often leads to a chance on goal. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to note that Bale was in such positions when both goals were scored.
Playing against his former club, Emanuel Adebayor was under a fair bit of pressure. He was also sent off during the last meeting between the two sides, and this only added to the importance of the occasion for the player. Much to the delight of his manager, Adebayor put in a splendid shift. The big striker held up the ball well, brought his team mates into play, and made good runs into the channels, keeping the Arsenal defenders busy. His efforts paid off, and his running created the space for Lennon to run into for the second goal. Unfortunately for the Togolese forward, his game ended on a poor note. He had to be taken off due to an injury to his knee.
In midfield, Spurs seemed to lack a bit of imagination. They passed the ball around well, but couldn’t really get around the Arsenal midfield and play passes in behind their defense. Sigurdsson had a good game overall, but was a little too deep to be able to influence proceedings in the final third. Holtby was sorely missed. Due to the dearth of creativity in midfield, Tottenham had to rely on their wide men to form the core attacking threat for them, and the wide men duly obliged. Another outcome of the lack of penetrating passes was the high number of dribbles the home side attempted. The thrust was on using the pace and skill rather than opening up the defense. This policy automatically created gaps in the opposition defense, leading to a number of chances.
In defense, Spurs were solid, and barely gave Arsenal a sniff. Led by the impressive Jan Verthongen, Spurs’ organization at the back was a joy to behold. Bale and Lennon tracking back also added to the stability at the back.
With just 10 games to go, the fight for the Champions League spots and indeed the ‘Battle of London’, could go right down to the wire. The Big Four has long been extinct, the dominance of London’s top clubs is as good as over as well. Tottenham seem to be the new ‘big’ club in England. More performances like this will only enhance Spurs position in England’s top league.