How Arsenal outplayed Spurs but only left with a point
Arsenal drew against fierce rivals Tottenham in an entertaining and controversial 1-1 draw at Wembley on Saturday. Aaron Ramsey’s opener was cancelled out by a controversial Harry Kane penalty before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a penalty late in the second half.
The result coupled with wins for Manchester United and Chelsea over the weekend leaves the Gunners in a tight spot when it comes to Champions League qualification. However, Arsenal were extremely unlucky to draw the game as Unai Emery’s side were positive in attack and defensively solid. Here are the main tactical points from the game.
Arsenal lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with a few surprise changes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil dropped to the bench as Alexandre Lacazette led the line with Aaron Ramsey deployed almost as a second striker behind him. Shkodran Mustafi started at right-back with Nacho Monreal on the opposite flank. Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis formed the centre-half pairing. In midfield, Lucas Torreira was a surprise omission as Matteo Guendouzi started instead along with Granit Xhaka. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi took their places on the right and left wing, respectively.
Spurs lined up in a 3-4-1-2. Harry Kane led the line with Heung-min Son. Christian Eriksen operated in his usual number ten role. Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose operated as the wing-backs on either side of a midfield comprising of Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko. Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez formed the defensive trio.
Arsenal did an exceptional job of restricting Tottenham’s chances from open play. Emery’s team selection was positive yet pragmatic as he opted for a balance of flair and tenacity. Right from the first whistle, Arsenal were quick to press Tottenham relentlessly. Ramsey’s contribution to the pressing cannot be understated as the Welshman covered an exceptional 9.7 kilometres before his substitution. Arsenal’s pressing was coordinated and synchronized. Christian Eriksen was offered no time on the ball as he positioned himself between the lines with either Xhaka or Guendouzi constantly harrying him. Arsenal’s pressing incidentally led to the goal.
Lacazette did a great job of pressing Sanchez, winning the ball in Arsenal’s own half before releasing Ramsey who opened the scoring. Arsenal’s pressing was very player-specific. Spurs dominated possession and had the visitors pinned back deep in their own half but Unai Emery’s side didn’t expend too much energy pressing Spurs’ defence but rather opted to press Eriksen and the double-pivot in midfield to prevent them from threading balls through the defence for Kane and Son to latch onto. It was impressive to see how Arsenal maintained the intensity and concentration for the majority of the game despite being so poor defensively this season.
Arsenal’s organisation was very compact and rigid with clear roles highlighted for each player. Out of possession, the Gunners resembled a 4-4-2 with Ramsey and Lacazette up top. Mkhitaryan and Iwobi were key in ensuring that Spurs were nullified on the overlap, constantly helping out their counterparts in defence. The duo are highly-rated for their defensive efforts and showed the same, they helped prevent Spurs from creating 2v1 advantages against Arsenal’s full-backs. Kane’s physical threat meant that both Koscielny and Sokratis were tasked with handling the Englishman. This required additional defensive contributions from Xhaka and Guendouzi to keep Son quiet.
In attack, Arsenal stuck to a counter-attacking game plan given Tottenham’s dominance of possession. The home side struggled to create chances from open play which largely made them resort to recycling possession. Whenever Arsenal won the ball, Xhaka was the main outlet to whom the ball was given. As possession was given to the Swiss, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi would push higher up the pitch as would their defensive counterparts in Mustafi and Monreal. Xhaka would then play an aerial ball to the wingers.
This tactic was effective as Tottenham maintained a very vulnerable high defensive line and with their wing-backs frequently in attacking positions, Arsenal could take advantage of the space vacated by Rose and Trippier to create an effective attacking outlet for themselves. On many occasions, Arsenal were able to have players make runs past Tottenham’s defensive line and incidentally one led to the goal while another led to a penalty which Aubameyang missed.
Aaron Ramsey certainly does love a game at Wembley, doesn’t he? In his final North London Derby appearance, the Welshman put in an incredible shift, scoring Arsenal’s goal and being virtually ever-present offensively and defensively for his side.
In defence, Koscielny, Sokratis and Monreal were dominant and extremely solid. Since his return from injury, club captain Koscielny has really wound back the years in terms of his performances in defence. Against Tottenham, the defensive trio made a combined 11 tackles, six interceptions, 14 clearances, two blocks and won six aerial duels. A mammoth performance indeed for a defensive-trio all aged beyond 30. The compactness that Sokratis and Koscielny provided was essential in stifling Kane. Notably whenever Kane had the ball, at least two Arsenal defenders were on his heels to win it back with players from midfield arriving to defend in the positions they had vacated. It was refreshing to see Arsenal defending well after a season characterized by errors.
A point away from home against Tottenham is far from a bad result but given the circumstances and the way Arsenal played, Aubameyang’s last-minute penalty miss still leaves a sense of frustration behind. Nevertheless, Emery and the Arsenal fans can be proud of how their side played against an opposition who were widely expected to dominate the game.
Looking forward, a crucial Europa League tie at Rennes awaits and given the competition for the Champions League spots in the Premier League, it isn’t a competition Arsenal can take lightly. An important tie against Manchester United also awaits this weekend, a fixture that would go a long way towards deciding whether the Gunners will be playing in the Champions League next season.
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