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Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal: Tactical analysis

Tottenham grabbed a slender 2 – 1 win over Arsenal in the North London derby last night, opening up a 7 point lead over the defeated, and returning to the third place in the league table. It was an occasion on which AVB made a couple of smart tactical moves in declaring his starting eleven which, along with a well executed plan on the pitch, paid rich dividends for the home side. Here is a summary of how the teams played out.

Arsenal’s flank-attack
Carl Jenkinson was impressive but nobody profited from his good service.

Carl Jenkinson was impressive but nobody profited from his good service.

Right from the get go, it was quite obvious that Arsenal’s intentions were to hurt Tottenham down the sides, as Walcott and Cazorla were often joined and surpassed by Jenkinson and Monreal on their respective flanks. With the tall figure of Olivier Giroud lurking in the middle, it was an understandable tactic as well, but one which failed to pay off for Arsene Wenger’s side. Instead, what it did was allow Walker and Assou-Ekotto to exploit the space left behind by the opposition full backs, and often led to some sort of threat through a counter attack.

Tottenham’s route through the middle
Aaron Lennon's inroads proved hard to track.

Aaron Lennon’s inroads proved hard to track.

Tottenham, on the other hand, were focussed on running with the ball, pulling Arsenal out of their shape, and then exploiting the spaces that were created. It was a ploy that the Gunners fell head over heel for, as was very clearly seen in the Lennon goal, where the centre-backs were caught ball watching, and let Lennon slip in behind them, round Szczesny and roll the ball into the back of the net. The centre-backs were watching Scott Parker, of course, who only needed to make a slight diagonal run from the centre of midfield to merit their attention, before slipping a ball into the path of Lennon who, as already mentioned, scored.

Sigurdsson in place of Dempsey
Gylfi Sigurdsson duties on both the offensive and defensive end were a tactical masterclass.

Gylfi Sigurdsson duties on both the offensive and defensive end were a tactical masterclass.

This was a change that worked out extremely well for the cockerels, with the former Swansea man coming up with one of his best performances of the season. Manning the left flank, he not only allowed Bale to play in a central role, but also carried out his defensive duties extremely well. His best contribution though, was in attack, where his perfectly timed through ball helped Bale beat the offside trap and open the scoring for Tottenham, who seemed only to be defending for all their worth. There were a couple more excellent balls from Sigurdsson that went begging, but the fact that Bale was given the freedom to exploit the Arsenal centre-backs is in itself an added bonus.

The offside trap from Arsenal
Per Mertesacker may have pulled one back fro Arsenal but in defense, he was a statue.

Per Mertesacker may have pulled one back fro Arsenal but in defense, he was a statue.

When you, as a team, attempt to play the offside trap against a side which boasts of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon in its attacking line up, you know you only have yourselves to blame when things go horribly horribly wrong. Go horribly wrong they did for Arsenal, as late reaction from Mertesacker ruined an otherwise perfect offside trap for Bale, letting him slip in and score in his fifth consecutive league game. The defenders seemed so focused on catching out the opposition attackers in an offside position, particularly in the first half, that they failed to check runs from Sigurdsson, Parker and Co., thereby allowing them the time and space to pick out runs from Bale and Lennon.

Parking the bus
Jan Vertonghen was a rock at the back for Spurs.

Jan Vertonghen was a rock at the back for Spurs.

Admirably or not, Tottenham did indeed defend deep in their own half for large spells of the game, relying on counter attacks and the sheer pace of their attackers. This is a tactic which is now used quite often by sides against fancied opponents, but works really well when you have the likes of Bale in your side. The fact that Arsenal failed to break down this stubborn defending may be of alarm to Arsene Wenger, but for Villas Boas and his side, it’s a plan well executed and a job well done.

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