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Match Review: Arsenal vs Spurs

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 17: Jack Wilshere of Arsenal is tackled by Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier league match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on November 17, 2012 in London, England.

An important game as always, with much spice to it. And the game was as hot enough as many recent North London Derbies.

Arsenal, seemingly short of confidence at the back in the last few games, needed to win this one to not only regain self-belief but to go above their rivals in the league table. Spurs fans finally had what they expected- the big summer signing, Lloris in goal and Adebayor starting upfront with Defoe.

Arsenal, in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, started with Vermaelen again at left back, as Gibbs was still out through injury and Santos‘ positioning is akin to a solar panel in the North Pole during winter. What this meant was that Mertesacker started in the center along side Koscielny. While Mertesacker is a very good tackler, his biggest weakness is pace and against the likes of Defoe, Adebayor, Bale and Lennon he was troubled throughout the game, specially being dragged out of position by Defoe, exposing the Right center back’s space. The first goal was a clear evidence of this.

The game started out with Arsenal kicking off with the strange habit developed during the season – a long cross field diagonal. A midfield tussle followed by Adebayor drifting to the home side’s left. This could have been a regular feature of the game, if not for the sending off of Adebayor in the seventeenth minute. Arsenal were glad that Wilshere was back, not just in the attacking sense, but also defensively. With Podolski not the most defensive player on the left and a center back at left back, it was important he moved quickly to provide cover.

Tottenham began the game with a high line and high pressing. A nervous Arsenal couldn’t hold on to possession for as long as they would have liked, but it all changed after the sending off- Spurs tried to maintain the highline and pressing but soon started tiring. Arsenal could retain possession and a highline meant that Arsenal could use pace to get behind. With Podolski coming in narrow, the play was stretched on the right by Theo Walcott and Sagna.

Spurs problem was also that they did not have any mobile midfielders. Both Huddlestone and Sandro are good strong players but cannot counter quickly and link midfield with the lone striker. This also meant that Arteta could control distribution as there was no one to pressurize him. This was evident in the build up leading second goal when Arteta got the ball, had time to make a pass and started making an unchallenged run. Wilshere tried to flick on for the 1-2 but a deflection pushed the ball to Podolski, who finished it through the legs on the defender.

Arsenal have had to go through a change in mentality in the last couple of games. It has taken players a while to realize that Giroud is not a player who is going to thrive on balls to his feet but on crosses. One of the main features of the game was Arsenal’s crossing, especially from the right. The first goal saw Wilshere with the ball around the center circle(without much pressure), spreading it to Walcott, who crossed it for Per to head in. A type of goal, which we might see more of in the coming games.

The third goal was all about Cazorla’s brilliance, but again showed Spurs’ problem- no one could stop the Spainard as the midfield was too slow to get out. Giroud finished the ball across the box, getting in front of the marker like any center forward should.

At half time, it was evident that what Spurs lacked was mobility in midfield and defending out wide. AVB took out the right-back Walker and left-back Naughton and introduced a Center-back Dawson and an attacking midfielder Demsey, moving to a 3-4-1-1 formation. It made sense as Dempsey,is not the most defensive minded but can work between the lines and Sandro and Huddlestone are the sort to break up play. While playing Bale on the left was never in question, AVB left Lennon on, as Vermaelen isn’t the sort of wing back who can exploit the space. In fact, later when Wilshere was replaced by Ramsey, Spurs could still have a say in that area.

Thanks to the changes, Spurs were able to play better in the second half. But Arsenal had a player who could read the game very quickly in Cazorla, who had a vibrant second half to add to his good first. The space left by the wing backs was exploited by him to good effect. The fourth goal saw Cazorla run behind the left center back to tap in.

Spurs proved that they still could be a force, when Per was again caught of position and Bale scored a good goal. Ramsey is not as mobile or as aware as Wilshere, postioning wise and Wenger had to bring on Santos for Podolski to sure up midfield. A fine dribble by Oxalade through the porous wide zones of Spurs and Theo’s finish sealed the win for Gunners.

As in the derby in February, the game was played at a good pace, with the wide players playing major roles. While Wenger’s gamble of not buying a midfielder might pay off, not buying a left-back to cover for Gibbs, still proves to be a major problem, specially against pacey sides. Moving your best center back to that position leaves the Gunners weaker in two positions.

A good win overall, but the sending off was the key. Without a mobile and technical midfielder, Spurs relied on the front two to drop off and create. They also missed a good distributor, who could switch play quickly and push Bale and Lennon directly on the full backs(which they did manage initially). Arsenal though still had to exploit it. The first goal arrived at a key moment and gave the home side momentum and belief to climb over Tottenham to sixth in the table.

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