Tactics Review: Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham
In his pre-match interview, Arsene Wenger emphasised the need for balance when attacking. He noted that his men needed to be fully committed in order to break down one of the best defences in the league, but they also had to be wary of the way Spurs suck their opponents in before picking them off on the break.
Arsenal started in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Petr Cech taking long goal-kicks towards Olivier Giroud while the attacking midfielders converged on the Frenchman to fight for second balls.
When the Gunners had sustained possession in Tottenham’s half, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla alternated, with one pushing on to back play centrally while the other remained as the holding midfielder.
Joel Campbell and Alexis Sanchez drifted inside from the flanks to attack as wide forwards flanking Giroud, which in turn allowed Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal to overlap and supply crosses.
Arsenal wanted to stop Spurs from comfortably building attacks from the back, so they adopted a high pressing approach with Mesut Ozil joining Giroud up top in leading the defending in a 4-4-2 formation.
Sanchez and Campbell engaged the visitors’ full-backs from the sides, while Coquelin and Cazorla double-pivoted in central midfield.
Tottenham Hotspur tactics
Mauricio Pochettino retained the bulk of the starting XI he used throughout the week, which meant that more than half of his first eleven players were starting the third game in just six days.
Still, Pochettino was confident that they were able to execute Spurs’ usual game-plan of pressing high, out-running the opposition and working the ball from the back.
The only change to the system saw Mousa Dembele swap positions with Dele Alli. That was possibly designed to allow the quicker Alli to start in more promising transitional positions when counter-attacking.
Eric Dier dropped between the central defenders to help initiate attacks from the back before pushing back into midfield as the sitter. Dembele broke from the base of central midfield to support play centrally, along with Alli.
Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen made infield runs from the sides looking to influence the game between the lines while also making diagonal runs into the box to support Harry Kane.
Spurs realised that Arsenal would use Giroud as a target for a long goal-kicks so Dier was detailed to shadow the French forward when Cech had the ball. That freed Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld to drop off and deal with runners in behind.
When Arsenal tried to play out from the back, Kane and Alli adopted a high pressing approach deep in Arsenal’s half, with Lamela and Eriksen backing the aggressive defending from the sides.
Key tactical changes
Arsenal enjoyed more possession (about 60 per cent) in the first-half, but Tottenham were the better side because the Gunners lacked penetration and only managed one goal attempt compared to Spurs’ six. Tottenham took the lead thanks to their superior quality in the final-third.
Cazorla felt dizzy at half-time and Arsenal had a game to chase, yet Wenger could not call upon Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain due to injuries. The Arsenal manager settled for Mathieu Flamini as a direct replacement to add more bite in the middle-third.
That change hardly influenced the game as Arsenal had a 15-minute spell of dominance which was followed by another 15-minute spell in which the visitors were on top. Neither side converted the chances they created from those periods of dominance, so the Gunners went into the last quarter-of-an-hour trailing 0-1.
Again with Wenger devoid of convincing options on the bench, he simply added Kieran Gibbs’ fresh legs to the left flank, where Joel Campbell had ceased tracking back. Sanchez worked from the right flank, while Mikel Arteta completed the game as Coquelin’s partner in central midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Thankfully for Wenger, Arsenal nicked an equaliser from those changes.
The equaliser also swung the momentum in Arsenal’s favour as Spurs tired. Pochettino consequently settled for a point by detailing Ryan Mason to come on and stiffen the central midfield area.
Dembele pushed a bit further forward in a 4-5-1 formation, which allowed the Lilywhites to hang on for their point. In the end, a draw seemed fair given that both sides had decent chances and periods of sustained pressure.