MATCH PREVIEW: Arsenal Go Into A North London Derby With All To Play For
Back in the beginning of the season after match day 4 had concluded, Arsenal were sitting at the bottom of the table without a goal scored. It felt as dire as it looked. Fast forward to today, and Arsenal head into the North London Derby with a chance at Champions League qualification, something no one could have envisioned back on those dark September days.
Arsenal sit in fourth place four points ahead of Spurs and a few points behind Chelsea in third. They have won 4 in a row and are on the brink of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in five years. The process that got us here is delivering results ahead of schedule and its been a gloriously frustrating ride.
We’ve shifted out older contract heavy players and are dependent on young, hungry players who are still learning their trade to get us into this position. The question arises do they know what this means? Sure they’re professionals but have any of these young players really been in the pressure cooker that this North London Derby will be?
That’s where Arteta has to use every ounce of his man management skills to get his players to not only continue to buy into his vision but believe in themselves, not only as individuals but as a collective. We aren’t a team built to depend on individuals. If Arsenal are going to make the Champions League off the back of this match, they have to rely on the togetherness they’ve created over the season to see them through it.
It is all to play for. Win the derby and the season is effectively over for them because they will have secured Champions League. Draw and they have two more chances to lock it in. Same as if they were to unfortunately lose. What a predicament they find themselves in.
About our Opponents
Conte has had a rocky start to his second tenure in the Premier League. While Spurs looked very good at occasions, they also sit with only two wins in their last five matches, losing against Brighton in that. That being said, they’ve shown that they can compete as they showed last weekend earning a draw against Liverpool in a somewhat secure fashion.
On paper, Conte has set Tottenham up in a 3-4-3. However, it’s a formation that works with a lot of fluidity, having the players work in different roles as the formation move through 5-4-1 low block, to a 5-2-3 high pressure and to a 3-2-5 offensive formation. This is made possible because of the running power of Højbjerg, Kulusevski and Emerson, who will all occupy several different roles based on the phase of the game and tactical situation.
In defense, Spurs look to initially press high with the front 3 of Son, Kane and Kulusevski, with Højbjerg and Bentancur following deep dropping midfielders to deny easy passes out of the opposition defensive line. Should that fail, Tottenham move low, with Kulusevski and Son dropping into the midfield, to try and deny the opposition the ability to pass the ball in and around the 18 yard box. Press triggers are used in wide areas attempting to drive play backwards, with the wide backs looking to press the wingers and deny opportunities to spring any wide attacking plays. One thing that was interesting against Liverpool, Conte would intentionally leave some room for the opposition wide players to advance leaving space behind. Then if Tottenham would win the ball they could use a diagonal long ball as a opportunity to spring their counter attack.
In attack, Tottenham will initially try to transition players fast up the pitch, using Kane as a target, or trying to draw the opposition higher up and releasing a player in behind the wide areas. Against Liverpool, this usually resulted in either Kulusevski or Højbjerg running into acres of space behind Robertson’s vacated left back spot. Should this not work, Spurs like to look to use their width to sneak a wide back into a position for a diagonal long pass to create 1v1 situations out wide and mount an attack.
When defending against Tottenham, Arsenal should look to regain shape and position very early, denying Spurs easy outlets to the wide areas. By dropping slightly off Spurs and looking to defend wide areas early, Arteta’s men have a chance to slow down Tottenham’s transitional play and force Spurs to play through their midfield instead. Should play develop, Arsenal will have to mirror Spurs attacking formation and drag a fullback inside while dropping a winger into a wide defensive position. The Gunners did similar against Chelsea, where Saka followed Alonso all the way down, so it should not be an unfamiliar tactic for the Gunners.
While Spurs aren’t as inept as we would like to believe they also aren’t without their flaws under Conte. Against teams like Villa and Brighton their passivity in play and worrying about ceding the space behind them allowed the opposition to build play effectively and pin Spurs back into their own defensive third. Over time, this can lead to Spurs becoming pedestrians in a match as the game wears on.
First and foremost, Arsenal if they decide to keep possession of the ball, must be effective with their possession. The passing must be purposeful and crisp, lose balls any where are an invitation into spring Tottenham’s counter attack. Then Arsenal have to look to use that possession to up the tempo to try and force open gaps by moving the defenders.
Additionally, with Conte’s rigid defensive system, especially in their low block Arsenal have to win the midfield battle. Why? When looking at recent matches Tottenham while resolute in structure in shape hardly ever challenge the attacker with the ball, preferring to wait for a mistake down low to spring their transition.
The 5-4-1 low block Conte employs is purposeful in its intent of driving play wide and Tottenham is adept at ensuring there isn’t much space for wide players to work 1v1 when down low, however their zonal defending does afford Arsenal the opportunity to overload the half-spaces (Odegaard) and move the ball vertically through the lines.
How this Match Could Play Out
Each of these teams has had a Jekyll and Hyde kind of season. Each has put on amazing performances only to turn around and see aa few matches of passive play that sees them losing matches they probably should have won. What that means for this match is anyone’s guess. The problem for Conte is that with Arsenal 4 points up on them in the table, this could be viewed as a free hit for the Gunners with two matches remaining to sew up Champions League.
A draw serves no point for Tottenham either. Does Conte have it in him to try and get his team on the front foot or does he stick to his instincts and remain a counter attacking side at home?
For Arsenal, the key will be to see if they show up. This is a learning season and with it come mistakes. They have shown even in losses to big teams (later in the season) that they can play with the big boys. This is a coming of age moment for Arteta’s young guns. They have to come out and set the tempo early and stick with it through the entirety of the match. It can’t be a match of extreme highs and lows. The intensity and purpose of the team has to be maintained.
In the end, this is everything but an easy game for both squads. It isn’t by coincidence Conte has had this many trophies in his bag. He understands the game and will try to squeeze Spurs for all the juice before leaving them dry. For Arteta, much like his charges, is learning as he goes along, we can only hope that he learned something from Arsene on how to coax a team through this and on to the big show.
What the Manager Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
It’s the most exciting one, probably. But we had others when we played finals against Chelsea and Liverpool in the FA Cup and the Community Shield, it was the same. When you have the opportunity to achieve one of your objectives in the season, you just cannot wait to play the game because this is a job, and the work you have done throughout the season to try to earn it.
The message is clear, if we win against them we are in the Champions League next season. You don’t need any motivation or to tell them anything more than that. The opportunity is there, we are going to play and go for it like we always do It’s how we have got into this position, and it’s how we are going to approach it.
Arsenal Record vs Opponent (League only)
59 P 22W 14L 23D (Premier League era)
Goals Scored (Season Average)
Arsenal (away): 1.53
Tottenham (home): 2.00
Goals Conceded (Season Average)
Arsenal (away): 1.53
Tottenham (home): 1.12
xG for per Match (via footystats.org)
Arsenal 1.86 (1.58 away)
Tottenham 1.54 (1.59 home)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Constantine Hatzidakis, Neil Davies
Fourth official: Peter Bankes
VAR: Mike Dean
Assistant VAR: Lee Betts.
Match Facts (courtesy bbc.co.uk)
- Victory for Arsenal would guarantee them their highest Premier League finish since the 2015-16 campaign when they finished second. It would also be the first time since then that they have finished above Spurs.
- The Gunners have registered four consecutive league wins while conceding at least once in every game for the first time since a run of five from February to March 2012.
- They have gone seven league matches without a clean sheet since a 1-0 win at Aston Villa on 19 March.
- The four goals scored by Eddie Nketiah in his last four top-flight games is just one fewer than he managed in his first 52 Premier League appearances.
- Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka both have the chance to become the first Englishman to score for the Gunners in home and away fixtures against Spurs in a season since Ian Wright in 1993-94.
- Tottenham can win three successive home North London derbies in all competitions for the first time since 1980 to 1982, and in the league for only the second time. They did so between 1960 and 1961.
- Spurs are unbeaten in their past seven home league games against the Gunners, their longest run since they went nine without defeat at White Hart Lane between 1960 and 1968.
- Arsenal are aiming to complete their first league double over Spurs since 2013-14.
- The Gunners could win three consecutive North London league derbies for the first time since a run of five from 1987 to 1989.