All square in North London and vindication for Emery

Looking at the fixtures on Saturday i couldn’t help but notice the amount of analysis – worthy games. Having watched 3 of them though, the decision was quite one-sided in the end, destination North London it was. Stuttering Spurs against an Arsenal side with a point to prove away to top 6 rivals.

Pochettino opted for the already well known from recent weeks 3-4-1-2/3-5-2, whilst Emery opted for a 4-2-3-1 in yet another tough away game.

First half

First 15 minutes saw Arsenal pressing aggressively in a 4-4-1-1 set up, which meant a specific man and space orientated job for Ramsey, better illustrated with the following photos :

Different situations with a similar basis to them – Ramsey and Lacazette start central, forcing Spurs to pick a side to attack, in which case Ramsey will step out from marking Wanyama to blocking the outer CB’s infield passing lanes, restricting him to either a lofted ball into the channel or a short ball to the WB.

Arsenal’s aggressive pressing had mixed results with the timing of the pressing movements not always immaculate, yet still produced enough turnovers and second ball situations, ultimately achieved it’s target of disrupting Spurs unrivaled possession and circulation.

Possession-wise Arsenal had opted for a very conservative and safe approach, with short build almost completely abolished for the sake of long-balls to the forwards and less chances for Spurs 3-4-1-2 man-orientated press to cause turnovers in close proximity to goal. This ultimately created little trouble for Tottenham, as Arsenal’s front 4 lacked the profiles to stretch the depth of the pitch, instead wanting the ball to feet. It did admittedly lead to a hugely fortuitous goal, which changed the dynamic of the game a bit.

Arsenal’s lack of runners into the depth highlighted – Mkhitaryan looks for a ball into the channel but Lacazette is more suited to receiving the ball at his feet = ball easily regained by Spurs.

20th minute onwards saw Arsenal drop back into a mid block, allowing Spurs to circulate the ball under little pressure between the back 3, but yet still found no obvious answers as to how to disorganize and stretch Arsenal’s shape.

Iwobi and Mkhitaryan respectively blocking off the passing lanes to Trippier/Rose, whist Ramsey and Lacazette block the central passing options to Wanyama/Sissoko. Far-side wide midfielder staying deeper as to prevent diagonal switches, no other option except a back pass.

On a couple of instances towards the end of the half Spurs managed to create overloads on the Arsenal right side, managing to then find a switch to the underloaded left side, creating their best chance of the game with the Leno double save.

Ball is switched over the far side, Iwobi staying too high, whilst Xhaka can’t shift fast enough, allowing Eriksen to make a run between FB and CB.

Second half

The opening 15-20 minutes hardly offered anything different to the first half, Spurs still struggling to stretch Arsenal horizontally, whilst Arsenal still couldn’t find a way to get upfield and retain possession. Up step the changes…

Alderweireld again with little options, Trippier too far up field, Ramsey blocking the central passing lanes, all resulting in another direct ball to Kane and Son.

Emery introduced Aubameyang to offer a bit more direct running as opposed to Lacazette’s hold up, whilst Pochettino brought on Lamela, switched to a 4-4-2 and moved Rose in central midfield. Presumably he saw little need at that point for a 3 vs 1 overload in build up, thus putting more bodies between the Arsenal lines and using Rose as a more direct dribbler from midfield, along with his athleticism in transition.

It’d be hard-pressed to say Spurs really troubled Arsenal much in their new shape either, but they did scrape an equalizer. Arsenal however benefited from Aubameyang’s introduction greatly, as he tirelessly started stretching the depth of the pitch, causing numerous second ball situations for the his onrushing teammates. All this whilst Tottenham started leaving space behind their FB’s in transition. The ref felt obliged to make another bad call, but Aubameyang didn’t take advantage of the kind gift, scuffing a tame penalty too close to Lloris.

Spurs leaving space in the FB areas, Mkhitaryan plays in Aubameyang who narrowly misses out on finding Ozil with the subsequent cross.

Conclusion

A hugely successful game plan from Unai Emery and almost the perfect execution from his team. All, of course, relative to the deficiencies of the personnel, which the Spaniard has at disposal. Aubameyang’s cameo might give food for thought on whether he shouldn’t have started, but the striker’s movement was probably just perfect for a tiring Spurs backline. A very positive week ahead of a crucial 2 week period prior to the international break for the Gunners.

Pochettino on the other hand will probably be relieved his team managed to pull away with a point, keeping their 3rd spot still well in their hands. The limitations of the system are showing though, as opponents have regularly found an answer to Spurs’ wide rotations. Dele Alli’s return couldn’t come at a better time.

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