Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven For The North London Derby

Every possible significance of this game – points, pride, confidence, etc. – has been discussed by many so I’ll stick to the relevant points about the nature of the football and the players involved.

Spurs are getting results this season where in the past they’ve usually faltered. While the common theory seems to be greater mental strength, I put it more down to the decisive contributions of Bale. Last season, Van Persie made the difference for Arsenal at times when no path to points seemed viable. The Welshman is doing the same for Tottenham this year.

In terms of their overall football Spurs have been good but not exactly special. Often they seem to lack ideas and potency in the final third before Bale finds a way through almost all on his own. That doesn’t mean one should jump to the other extreme and label them a one man team. Just like Arsenal weren’t a single weapon army last season, there is more to Tottenham than Bale, but the vital decisive moments have been coming from the Welshman’s left foot.

I expect Spurs will come out strongly in the opening 10-15 minutes. In that period of high energy, the hosts are likely to press high up the pitch with purpose and cohesion. If Arsenal make mistakes in that period they will pay the price just as they’ve done in some of the recent meetings between the sides when the Gunners have conceded the lead. And in this period, Bale alone won’t be a threat. Transitions from the centre of the pitch or counters from deeper positions can put any of Adebayor, Defoe, Holtby, or Lennon in good positions to score.

After a while, I’ll be very surprised if Arsenal don’t have periods of dominance in midfield. Spurs might ease off a bit after scoring or they might just slow down after a high energy initial burst. In this period the key factor will be the discipline and structure that Tottenham can display to protect their goal. Equally, Arsenal’s ability to combine and produce slick, high-tempo football will be a major aspect of the game. The visiting attackers will have to find ways to link with each other and the midfield. There are times when the Arsenal front three play as three isolated nodes. AVB will want his defence to keep them apart because once they come together some of Arsenal’s football can be electrifying.

Even during such a phase of midfield dominance, counter-attacks and set-pieces will continue to worry the Gunners, particularly if Bale is allowed to drift into spaces in front of the central defenders. As the stats zone piece on points out, Arteta’s role can be significant but I don’t think he can do it alone. Ramsey will have a big defensive role to play if he starts, and the central defenders will have to take more responsibility. Their tendency to drop back early creates big vertical gaps on the pitch at times. That’s exactly the kind of situation AVB will want to see developing and will play right into Tottenham’s hands.

As a unit, I think Arsenal have a more potent attack with different types of combinations and goalscorers. Spurs are still a work in progress on that front. But in terms of defensive structure, decision making, and individual reliability – and despite the goals conceded tallies of either side – it’s the hosts who have the upper hand. There are just too many unforced errors in Arsenal’s game at the moment. It’s linked, at least partly, with the confidence of the players and they have to find a way out of a negative cycle.

Wenger’s team selection for this game will be interesting. Hopefully, he won’t go with Walcott in the middle. Although the temptation to try it against Tottenham’s predictable initial burst of pressing (read high line) is undeniable, the odds of such a tactic succeeding are fairly low.

Arsene might also consider playing a midfielder on the right to support Jenkinson. In theory, it’s a tactic that makes sense but given the tendencies of the midfielders at his disposal, I don’t see it as a balance-fostering approach.

Walcott on the right with Jenkinson staying back seems the best option. The young full-back will have a tough time and will undoubtedly need support. Bale will fancy taking him on and attacking Mertesacker by cutting in from the left if Arteta and Co. do a good job of denying him space and time in the middle. Jenkinson’s ability to maintain the right spacing with Bale and his choices as regards closing down and dropping off will determine how easy or tough it is for the Welshman to express his talents.

In general, Arsenal’s inability to effectively block/close down shots from outside the box can be a constant source of concern.

On the other flank, Lennon V. Monreal can be an interesting battle. This could be the first major speed test for Arsenal’s latest signing. I don’t think the Spaniard is as quick as the Englishman so his decision making and positioning will be worth observing.

I think the Gunners will have to stay very compact vertically or the defenders will be woefully exposed.

We might see,

Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal – Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.

Diaby could add greater presence in midfield but he also has a tendency to completely switch off on occasion. Ramsey’s propensity to dawdle on the ball can be risky when Spurs are pressing intensely.

The Gunners have won only once in their last seven League visits to the Lane and are winless in their last four visits. The last Arsenal win in an away NLD (not counting the League Cup) came way back in 2007. It’s not a stat that can be dismissed easily. On the other hand, Tottenham have won once in their six games against the top six sides this season. Admittedly, four of those were away games, but even at home they could only draw against United and lost to Chelsea.

Interestingly, Tottenham are one of the few teams who have more away points than home ones. The difference is marginal and it’s partly down to the extra away game they’ve played, but when compared to the home and away form of other teams the difference is noteworthy. Spurs have only scored 20 goals in 13 home games. 10 other teams have scored more including the likes of Reading, Fulham, and West Ham. However, that might also be down to the fact that their attack doesn’t get as much space at home as they do in away games. Against the Gunners they should find enough opportunities to create chances.

A couple of Bale moments and/or unforced errors from Wenger’s side could hand this tie to the hosts. On the other hand, if they play to their potential the Gunners can take a point or three. Unfortunately, based on current evidence, the odds are likely to favour the former possibilities and it will be up the Arsenal players to prove people wrong. Can they do it again?

13 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven For The North London Derby

  1. […] where in the past they’ve usually faltered. While the common theory seems to be greater […] …read more Read more here: […]

  2. Against Liverpool at The Emirates, The Gunners played the best football by any Premiership side this season and still drew. Even when coming from two down, they responded in style and had good chances to have made a complete comeback. Arsenal’s results and League position is baffling…2nd best defence, thrid best attack…still lies in 5th !

    At times, results are no true reflections of how good a team is…That Arsenal team is much better than their League position!

  3. Jim says:

    How about Coqelin playing along Arteta as the double pivot? He is the more Natural defensive midfielder compared to Ramsey. Since Spurs have the threat of pace, wouldnt it be better to play Kosienly and Varmelen as the centrebacks? This allows the team to push up the field and possibly be more aggressive in terms of winning the ball back

  4. caligunna16 says:


    I am worried about counters being the problem, however I would not want to stack the midfield to defensively. Jack will track back and poldi will help out jenkinson. The chemistry that monreal/santi have from Malaga days is great. Santi/Jack can help each other our and when one pinches in, the other goes wide.

    Giroud has a number of assists, and that is something over looked too often, he can help Walcott and create space for him when he drags his run.

    Coque/Oxo/Ramsey if necessary. Gervinho could be a wild card, wish he really found his August/September form.

    • nikkogunners says:

      a team i keep calling for but seems we cant get all these players in one side…Walcott in the role he loves…Giroud mixing things up in the second striker role and Podolski helping out…We know Carzola scores more frequently this days. Actually, our 4 serious goal threats in the same side..

  5. Aussie Jack says:

    Bale will enjoy reading your suggested line-up Desi. Jenkinson and Mertesacker on his wing and Ramsey working his socks off but getting nowhere.

  6. Th14 says:

    I would like to see koscielny play in midfield and man mark Bale. He will play inside for them and Kos is our best in one on one situations and has the pace, strength and speed on the turn to deal with him. Spurs have not been playing very well of late but his goals are bailing them out. IMO stop Bale,stop Spurs

  7. said khalif says:

    play coquelin as a fullback, he has the pace and potential to cope with the in-form bale

  8. special 1 says:

    wenger shd go with this.

  9. Ihuoma Bethrand says:

    I’ve read many post that have outlined Arsenal’ weaknesses against their opponent, especialy today’s game it shows that Arsenal has no chance against t***hm what a pity.

  10. JJ Pittman says:

    Great analysis, as always, Desi. I was unhappy to read le Boss’ comments with regard to Bale. Maybe he will do something like manmarking by using AOC on right wing and having him track Bale closely; this would have minimal disruption of the normal formation. 5 years ago vs. AC Milan, Flamini manmarked Kaka to perfection in CL; Bale is faster than Kaka was, but not as fast as AOC. On the other wing, Lennon is a huge threat; he will test Nacho for sure.
    We need at least a draw or there almost surely be no St. Totteringham’s Day this year.

  11. 9jagunnerdoc says:

    A lotf of you guys underestimate Jenkinson and overrate Bale’s one-dimensional game. Well, get ready to be blown away.

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