The most important North London derby of Arsene Wenger’s 15 year career at Arsenal (according to some at least) was decided in a crazy 27 minute spell by a superb display of grit and clinical finishing from the Gunners.
As was expected, form flew out of the window as the side previously 10 points clear in 3rd place crumbled despite an early two goal advantage. For much of the game, the midfield was largely bypassed in an exciting and end-to-end derby.
Although a slice of luck had some part in both Tottenham’s goals – with a huge deflection and a dive helping them gain an early lead – in reality it was poor defensive organisation that led to the chances arising in the first place.
Throughout the game, Arsenal employed a high defensive line (as they always do), with the emphasis on pressing the dangerous Tottenham midfield back into their own half. A tactic that worked to an extent in the first half (more on that later), except that the result was a massive space between the defence and midfield, or the goalkeeper and defence; leading to apparent confusion in the team over who was marking who. This was particularly evident in Spurs’ first goal, where Louis Saha was left completely free in the box.
After the horrendous marking for Spurs’ first goal, you would have been forgiven for thinking Arsenal might just prevent a couple of heart attacks and wasted bin-bags with some proper marking. Alas not. Half an hour later, Tottenham once again exploited the space behind Arsenal’s midfield with their two best players combining brilliantly to swan dive over the ‘keeper and win a penalty.
Fortunately, Spurs barely had a sight of goal after that, which means I can raise the tone of this article and talk about how Supercalifragilisticexpialidociously brilliant The Arsenal were for once.
As Arsene Wenger asserted after the game, 2-0 after 35 minutes was far from just. Arsenal were largely dominant for the majority of the game and if hadn’t been for a couple of crucial blocks by the Spurs defence, The Gunners could have been back in the game a lot sooner.
However, regardless of what was deserved, Arsenal were 2-0 down and needed to pull something special out of the bag to get a much-needed result. Despite a couple of tactical tweaks and instructions having an impact, the main reason for the astonishing comeback was undoubtedly a display of brilliant grit and determination.
But, since this is a tactical analysis blog, I’ll give you a little of that as well. Firstly, I’d like to bring it back to the pressing game I mentioned earlier – the midfield three were superb at winning the ball back early in the opposition half; making 12 tackles and 5 interceptions between them1.
Harry Redknapp chose to start the game with Niko Kranjcar on the right of a midfield four, but – against a three-man midfield – was instructed to come inside. The decision not to play Aaron Lennon against Kieran Gibbs (naturally a left-back, rather than centre-back and therefore more inclined to get forward) was one of the key factors as Tottenham lost width and, despite making up the numbers in the middle, had no balance in midfield and were easily pushed back.
The other important impact of the lack of a winger on Tottenham’s right hand side was that Kieran Gibbs and Yossi Benayoun were able to double up on young Kyle Walker – something that helped them get their second goal as Gibbs was left free to pick a pass to the left of the box. The former England U-21 left-back, who had a brilliant game, also attempted three crosses and made another three successful dribbles1.
When Tottenham did get the ball, they were often too far back in their own half to do anything productive with it immediately. One of their attempted solutions was simply to try and give the ball to Bale on the left. However, with Spurs’ midfield pushed back, Alex Song was able to abandon his position in midfield and drift out wide to cover for Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna’s forward runs – making several key tackles and interceptions to prevent counter-attacks.
#1 – Tomas Rosicky, ft. Aaron Ramsey: “Looking for Cesc”
The last few games have seen a pleasing re-emergence of Tomas Rosicky into one of Arsenal’s most dangerous players, while the much maligned Aaron Ramsey has struggled for consistency, fitness and confidence.
A goal and a mightily impressive display against Tottenham followed solid performances in the wins over first Blackburn, and then Sunderland. But – ignoring form for a moment – why should Tomas Rosicky be picked over Aaron Ramsey? If at all?
The Czech international’s experience is vital here, with statistics showing Rosicky is more adept at keeping the ball – being dispossessed only 1.3 times per game, compared to Ramsey’s 3.1 and turning over the ball only 8 times in 17 appearances while Ramsey has done so 40 times in only 6 more games this season1.
However, Ramsey’s statistics show that – creatively – he has used the ball better than his team-mate, with four assists to his name and an average of 2 key passes per game. Rosicky, meanwhile, has managed only one assist this term and a fairly low 1.2 key passes per game1.
Finally, Rosicky appears to be more clinical than Ramsey when he gets into advanced positions, with a higher completion rate (27%) for through-balls and only one less goal despite taking 20 less shots1.
In reality, it is difficult to make these comparisons – especially based purely on statistics. Two different players who have both struggled somewhat for consistency this season, but who both – providing their respective injuries aren’t too serious – look to be making a return to the best. Neither player is (or perhaps even will be) as good as Fabregas, but for the first time in a while, we have two suitable players for the position who can both do a job if the other is out.
The stuff dreams are made of. Some tactical errors by the man who is odds-on to become the next England manager and an incredible display of passion gave Arsenal arguably their most important win of the season. Not for the first time, Arsenal put themselves in danger of throwing away all their hard work this season since the 5-3 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
But – also not for the first time – Arsenal showed superb character to fight back and win another crazy North London derby in which they finally got the plaudits, and the points, they deserved. The Gunners have now saved 13 points from losing positions this season, and scored two more goals than they did after 26 games of the Invincibles campaign4.
Even after this, criticism of Arsene Wenger will no doubt continue as strong as ever. But we must remember that while some think he has got us into this mess, the majority – including the players – no doubt think he is one few people who can get us out.
With International week coming up, A.C. Milan must wait another week for their inevitable 10-0 hammering at the hands of Arsenal’s U18s. Anything is possible – this is football, after all.
Second Opinion by Brian Fisher
Arsenal had senior players step up to flip a two nil deficit into a 5-2 victory at the hands of The Gunners most hated rivals from down the road. This ended up being an important result with Chelsea hammering Bolton on Saturday. The win keeps the Gunners in fourth place on goals scored.
Arsene Wenger was finally able to select something close to his preferred back four with Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen in the center and Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs at fullback. However, The Boss changed things up front with Yossi Benayoun starting on the left with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropped to the bench.
First 40 minutes
In somewhat of a surprise move, Harry Redknapp elected to go pure 4-4-2 with Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha up front, Luka Modric and Scott Parker were in the middle, and Gareth Bale and Niko Kranjcar were on the left and right respectively.
Clearly, Spuds strategy from the off was to sit deep with two banks of four and attempt to counter by playing very quick and very direct. And it worked as Arsenal looked very nervous at first and defended very poorly. The first goal was created with the Arsenal backline all over the place. With Adebayor drifting to the right Koscielny followed as Sagna was caught forward leaving TV5 alone in the centre. Vermaelen then tracked a clever run from Kyle Walker and with Gibbs out of position forward as well, there were acres of space for Saha to run into, receive the ball, and finish.
Soon after though, Arsenal were able to get control of the game and begin to over run spurs in the midfield through their numbers advantage and their pressing (which was excellent and how this team should press every game).
However, Tottenham were still very dangerous on the break. This was mainly due to the fact that with Spurs, playing a true 4-4-2 didn’t drop one of their strikers into the midfield to compensate for the 3 v. 2 advantage Arsenal had. In turn, this left Arsenal two on two at the back and very vulnerable to counter attacks with both fullbacks as well as Alex Song looking to get forward.
Arsenal were again punished (this time unjustly) when they lost the ball in the midfield and Modric played Gareth Bale through quickly. Bale then proceeded to take a dive worthy of an Oscar nomination to earn spurs a penalty.
Arsenal’s senior players step up
Down two to nothing, Arsenal could have folded. They could have completely turned off and conceded defeat after two horrendous performances against Milan and Sunderland to ensure Arsenal go another season with out a trophy. They could have quit, BUT they didn’t. This team responded and refused to accept defeat. They responded through three goals from three of their senior players.
Sagna pulled one back for Arsenal with a powerful header right after Robin van Persie hit the post off some clever play from Theo Walcott after he dummied a pass from Tomas Rosicky for the Dutchman to run on to. Then minutes later after a poor clearance from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, RvP stunned Spuds with a world class curling effort from the top of D to tie the match at two all.
Finally, to complete the rally, Arsenal strung together some lovely one touch passes to open up space on the right for a 5 v. 4 break that was finished with Rosicky flicking in a Sagna cross to complete the comeback and begin the route.
Spuds halftime changes
Realising that his team was getting dominated in the midfield, ‘Arry made changes to help sure up his midfield. He brought on Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart in place of Saha and Kranjcar. This then changed Spuds shape to 4-5-1ish.
In theory this was the right move to make as it evened things up in the center of the park at three-a-piece. However this move didn’t work for two reasons:
1. After the changes, Tottenham looked completely lost and had no idea how they were supposed to play or what their shape was supposed to be (in fact, it was hard for me to discern what shape they were in). This left them very unorganised and disjointed.
2. This change also meant that with Adebayor alone upfront, that Arsenal were now 2 v. 1 again at the back. This allowed Vermaelen and Koscielny to return to their preferred roles of TV5 getting tight to opposition players and Koscielny sweeping up behind him reading the game. This tightened Arsenal’s defence and kept Spuds from even sniffing a chance in the second half.
A Tale of two Walcotts
Theo Walcott had a monster second half in which he scored two goals and nearly had a third. This was a big turn around as in the first half he was invisible and inconsistent on the ball. So why was he able to turn it around so quickly?
It’s actually very simple if you think about it. Theo Walcott’s best attributes are his pace and his off the ball movement. When Spuds were up two nothing, they were able to sit deep, limit the space in behind, and soak up pressure.
However, when Arsenal turned the game around at 3-2, Spuds were forced to chase the game a bit and in doing so had to push their defensive line higher. This then lead to Arsenal playing on the break and leaving plenty of space in behind for Theo to run into, receive through balls, and finish.
Aside from the first 15 minutes or so, Arsenal were always in control of the game by out numbering Spuds in the midfield. This was a big result considering the previous two fixtures. This win should help to restore some of the team’s confidence, the fan’s confidence in Arsene, and everyone’s pride in their beloved Arsenal. From here on in its important Arsenal continue to play the way they did today to secure their place in the Champions League.
Plus, we hit Spuds for five. There is only one team in London.