It should have been 5-0. I guess that’s the only complaint you can have from Arsenal’s big win over their bitter rivals in the North London Derby.
I’d expected it to be a tougher game but only one team showed up with their A-game. Wenger put Walcott up front and Gnabry coming in on the right worked out perfectly. Changes like that shouldn’t have created as big a gap between the two sides though, and it seemed to me that two distinct factors led to Arsenal’s dominace.
The main problem was with Tottenham’s chaotic system. I don’t mean it in the 4-4-2 vs 4-2-3-1 kind of way where two central midfielders are overrun by three opponents. It’d be a popular tack to take but doesn’t correlate with Spurs’ higher possession (was pretty even even before Arsenal went down to 10). Nor does it tally with other observations like Sagna being free on the flank to play that pass to Gnabry. Sherwood’s side would have had the full-back well controlled had they got fewer bodies in the centre. But Eriksen, who was notionally playing as a left-sided midfielder, often drifted inside and evened the numbers up or, occasionally, gave his side the numerical superiority in specific zones.
You could go through the game and pick moments when Arsenal had fewer bodies in the centre and you could find moves where Spurs were outnumbered in that area. The game is fluid and simplifying it to that extent hardly helps. What matters is the way a team is able to use its advantage.
This is inextricably linked to the attacking players’ ability to combine and create, but we must not forget the role of the opponent’s defensive structure and individuals involved contributes almost as much, if not more.
We could see remnants of AVB’s high pressing game in the positioning and choices of some players and with the central defenders dropping deep quickly we also saw Sherwood’s influence. The problem for Tottenham was that it led to a confused defensive approach and created big gaps between the lines.
See the amount of space Gnabry had when he received the ball. The visiting midfield was in no position to help the defence. It was a common occurrence throughout the game. And those who’ve followed this blog over the last few years will need no explanation on just how difficult life can get for defenders who are left without support against quick and tricky opponents.
Even when time and space are available, the attacking players still need to be on the same page in order for a promising moment to result in a good quality chance. The way the Gunners combined in forward areas was a real joy and, even though you can argue such space won’t always be available, it’s impossible to ignore the timing of Walcott’s movement, Cazorla’s technique, and Gnabry brimming potential. Finishing could still have been better, particularly from Theo, but they did very well for an attacking trio that had not played together before.
Sidebar – Walcott’s injury was a shame. His uniqueness means it will be a big loss. But I think the team can cope with it as long as they continue to attack and defend as a unit.
Coming back to the main topic, the second defining aspect of the game was Tottenham’s inability to convert many of their promising moments into meaningful chances. I don’t think Arsenal’s defending was particularly outstanding in this game. There were many individual moments from which the visitors could have sprung more threatening attacks. For example, when Soldado dropped into pockets between the lines and showed good control of the ball, or the time Spurs worked space on the right flank, and so on. The fragmented nature of their attack – perhaps also a result of tactical execution that was neither here (read Sherwood) nor there (AVB) – meant that the Gunners got enough of an opportunity to recover and solidify their defences.
As the game went on I also sensed a degree of resignation in the visiting ranks. It was as if they realized it was a lost cause and didn’t quite give their all. It certainly didn’t have the feel of a feisty local derby in a Cup tie. That probably explains why they just couldn’t get anything going even with a man advantage towards the end.
Villa Park – Another must-win game!
It can start to get a little tedious when almost every game gets the must-win label. Trust me when I say I understand that and this is not just a case of trotting out tired clichés.
On an average, in the last 10 years a team winning the title has won over 27 league games.
Arsenal have demonstrated some troubles against the big sides all through 2013 and we have no real evidence to assume it’s all going to change overnight. So if we assume the team is not going to win more than 3-4 of their 12 games against the other six major sides, it would mean they cannot afford to drop points in more than 3-4 of their other 26 games. Two of those have already come in the form of West Brom and Aston Villa and the team still has to go away to Southampton and Stoke. Newcastle at home won’t be very easy either. You see how tight the margin is?
Yes, in theory, Arsenal can drop points in this game and recover those elsewhere. But the competition is tightening up now and consistency will be tested. City have already started getting a grip on their away from with impressive wins at Swansea and Newcastle. Including this game, I think the Gunners can afford to drop points in only one of their next four League fixtures. Anything less than 10 points out of these 12 could make the months of February and March very troublesome.
This is not a very hard game to call tactically. Villa are mostly about pace, particularly when playing teams like Arsenal. They have enough pace and, more importantly, players who know how to use that pace when offered vast open spaces. They can be fairly well organized and tough to break down. Take more risks and it gives the likes of Agbonlahor and Weimann their favoured opportunities.
Confidence is also a big factor in such a game and it sways over the course of the game. A few minutes of resolute defending with a chance or two on the break can give the hosts enough to believe they can get something from this game. At the same time, we’ve seen how even a slight whiff of defensive vulnerability affects the Gunners’ offensive potential. It doesn’t take much for the handbrake to come on and, frustratingly, it seems like an involuntary thing that is hard to control.
Wenger’s side has to retain the defensive stability on which this title charge has been built. Do not gift goals or even decent chances because that will have an impact on the patterns of play. Arsenal will win this game if the players believe in their ability and have patience for the duration of the game. Chances to win the game will come. Villa can be very dogged on their day but they have the second worst home record in the League and exactly two clean sheets in 10 games at Villa Park.
Apart from that fluke against City, their only other home win has come against Cardiff. Lambert’s men have lost all five home games starting with Liverpool in 4th going down to Newcastle in 8th while conceding 10 goals and scoring only one in the process.
It’s not clear whether everyone is available for this game from a fitness point of view. Assuming Ramsey, Gibbs, and AOC are a little short to start, Wenger could go with a team like
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Özil, Flamini – Wilshere, Giroud, Cazorla.
Gnabry on the right remains an option, and one I’d like to see in games like these, but Wenger probably has his reasons for keeping the youngster out.
Podolski on the left would provide more of a goal threat but it’s hard to justify leaving Cazorla out and I don’t see him being that effective drifting in from the right flank.
Rosicky will probably feature at some point during the game.
Wenger should be able to pick a very strong line-up with two or three good options on the bench. The Gunners simply have to prove themselves over and over again till they actually win something. This is just another step in the marathon.Follow @goonerdesi