Before going ahead with my views of the game I want to share a link to Gary Neville’s analysis of the high line and off side tactics employed by both Arsenal and Spurs. I found it very interesting. Although I don’t fully agree with the opinion offered, there is much to learn from what Neville said.
Coming to the game itself, Wenger’s selection was pretty much along expected lines but Villas-Boas did surprise me by moving Bale into a central role with Sigurdsson on the left. It’s tough to guess what his exact reasons were but Bale’s recent success through the middle, his goals against Arsenal in the last few games, and perhaps a need to give Assou-Ekotto some defensive help could all have been factors.
The nature of the game was partly as I’d expected but also a bit different. Tottenham did press hard in the first minute but the Gunners seemed prepared to match that intensity. It made the game more fast-paced that I’d expected. The two teams also stayed higher up the pitch than I’d thought they would.
As a result the game was compressed in the central third and there were few chances of note in the opening half-hour or so. Both sides got into promising positions in this period but couldn’t quite find the final ball or the finish. For instance, Giroud was almost in behind but wasn’t quick enough when it came to controlling the pass and getting his shot away. At the other end, Bale almost got on the end of a Sigurdsson ball, which proved to be a precursor of things to come.
Then it happened. Chaos in defence. Two goals in quick succession. The worst part being the ease with which these were created and finished.
Gary Neville does an exceptional job of identifying many relevant details but I have a feeling his analysis is based on the way Manchester United defend or many other British teams do. I’m not sure Wenger has the same thought process because the choices made by different players and the gaps that appear between the defenders and the midfield as a result of those choices just don’t correlate with the defensive approach that teams like United have, or the kind of things that Neville is talking about.
It’s difficult to explain this without the help of video analysis and I’m not in a position to make gifs right now just to explain things that we’ve discussed on numerous occasions, but I’ll use a couple of snapshots to make some observations.
The above image is frozen just after Dawson has beaten Giroud to a duel in order to head Szczesny’s long ball away. Arteta can be seen attacking the ball and duelling with Dembele.
A few questions can be raised – Just how close and narrow are the Arsenal midfielders? Remember they don’t have control of possession here. Is any of them aware Bale and Adebayor are in a 2-v-2 with the central defenders? Why does Arteta have to go into a duel where he loses his balance for a second or so and doesn’t really get control of possession? Why don’t Arsenal win the first, second, or the third ball even with so many players in the vicinity?
It’s interesting to note the clever lob that Dembele played just after this tussle with Arteta. He knew the positions of Bale and Adebayor and played a virtually blind pass into space knowing one of the two had a good chance of getting onto it.
Walcott had made a run across the defence in the hope of latching on to a flick-on so he too is in a central position. Not the positions of Assou-Ekotto and Sigurdsson. Also see where Monreal is vis-a-vis Lennon on the top left of the image. Their positions are important because it makes us wonder what Jenkinson was doing on the pitch.
Note Jenkinson’s position at the bottom left of the image. This moment has been frozen just after Bale headed the ball towards Sigurdsson. The youngster could easily have taken up a position parallel to that of Monreal’s and that would have made it much harder for Bale to play that pass. Or he could have tucked in closer to the central defenders so that one of them, Mertesacker most probably, could have stepped up to close the Icelandic midfielder down before he got a chance to run at the defence.
Did you see Wilshere’s reaction when Sigurdsson got the ball? It’s almost as if he’s baffled Sigurdsson is in so much space as he looks around to see where Walcott is. Arsenal usually defend with five across the midfield and the central defenders tend to remain narrow. But in this instance, Wilshere should have raced out to put pressure on the ball instead of wondering where Walcott was.
A lot of the above observations – the way Arteta attacks the ball, the slowness of Ramsey’s reaction to a momentarily loose ball that Dembele makes his own, Jenkinson’s position and decision making, and Wilshere’s bemused reaction – point to gaps in the way the Gunners think about defending.
Neville’s point was that the defenders should have continued dropping back and getting into a more compact narrower shape around the edge of the box. I’m not convinced they could have done that effectively given the gaps between the full-backs and the central defenders. Odds are Spurs would have found a way to score even if Mertesacker and Vermaelen continued dropping back. We have seen far too many goals scored against Arsenal where the central defenders drop back and the midfielders are seen forlornly chasing back facing their own goal.
There were about six or seven different actions by at least four different players that could have avoided that goal. And that is the frustrating part about Arsenal, there are just too many errors.
Similar analysis can be done for the second goal but I’m not getting into it.
Those were Tottenham’s only two shots on target in the first-half and both resulted in goals. The Gunners didn’t really test Lloris in that period.
In the second-half Spurs eased off and played on the counter attack. They did create two or three very good chances on the break but could not add to their tally. Bale, Sigurdsson, and Defoe all guilty of wasting good chances.
The Gunners got one back early on through a somewhat fortuitous deflection on a set-piece. Nevertheless, the quality of delivery, Mertesacker’s run, and Bale’s failure to read the danger should be noted.
Arsenal also got into numerous promising positions in the second half but their technical qualities and finishing let them down. Too often the touch in the final third was poor with Walcott, Giroud, and Podolski late on, all failing to convert good attacking situations into quality chances/goals.
I don’t think anyone can complain about desire or attitude in this game but that will probably not matter as there is enough else to grumble about. The problems with the defence are long standing issues related to defensive thought. Players seem genuinely confused to me at times and their errors a result of a lack of clarity and unified assessment of defensive situations. Unless they get to a stage where their choices and movements are controlled by one tactical brain they’ll keep on getting into a mess irrespective of who is actually on the field or seems apparently culpable.
Szczesny: Would be harsh to blame him for the goals but I have seen other keepers do better, particularly in situations like the first goal. Came out of his goal on a couple of occasions and got away with it but it was risky play.
Jenkinson: Made some good offensive runs and put some balls into dangerous areas. Defensively, he was lucky Bale rarely ventured that way and Sigurdsson wasn’t as hard an opponent to deal with. But it’s worth noting both goals originated from the space in front of him and his positioning was questionable at the very least.
Mertesacker & Vermaelen: Neville puts a lot of blame on the central defenders. I’m not sure they’re as much to blame because they were put into very difficult situations. They did well in most cases. That said, it did look like they were not on the same page and need better decision making. Good goal from the German. Vermaelen’s passing could have been more composed at times.
Monreal: Should have done much better for the second goal. Overall, it wasn’t a bad game from the left back as he wasn’t stretched up and down the pitch as much. A more controlled performance with limited attacking forays. Positioning and decision making were good for the most part. But you could also argue that one mistake has created a four point hole on the table.
The defenders looked really silly for the goals and there is definitely just cause to expect better but it would be like missing the forest for the trees if all the blame was placed on their shoulders.
Arteta: Should probably have stayed closer to the central defenders every time Bale stayed up the pitch. Steady game but he has had better days with his passing and defensive effort.
Wilshere: As I’ve noted before, a moment’s pause is lacking in his all-action style. There were times when he had the opportunity to play the attackers in but missed it as he was focussed on carrying the ball forward. His intentions are good and the quality is there but the maturity in decision making is not quite there, which can be costly to the team. Also needs better defensive awareness and consistency when dropping deep.
Ramsey: Did well to join the attack at times, like the tenacity shown to win the free-kick which resulted in the goal, or the moment when he almost connected with a Jenkinson cross. But defensively he wasn’t able to do enough. I don’t know what instructions were given to him but it was clear the defenders could have used more support from the Welshman.
Cazorla: Played some delightful cross-field passes. Wasn’t able to get into useful attacking positions as often as he would have liked in the first-half and couldn’t really find a way to break the Spurs defence in the second.
The midfielders weren’t able to support the defence or bring the attackers into play as often and as efficiently as they should have. Spurs were able to bypass them on a number of occasions to trouble the Arsenal defence and did well to read their intentions in attack.
Walcott: Made some interesting runs but didn’t receive the ball in the early part of the game. Could probably have stayed wider more often and waited for his chance to run given that Spurs weren’t too keen to drop back. Did get the ball in promising positions on a couple of occasions but his touch let him down. Decent delivery from the set-piece for the goal and also went close with a well-struck free-kick.
Giroud: The ideas were there, the effort was there, but the execution was lacking requisite precision. Also wasted some promising moments with overambitious shots or poor touches/passes.
It was disappointing to see the attack fail even when there was so much space for them to exploit. The technical weaknesses of both the forwards were apparent and influenced the result.
Subs: Rosicky looked lively and linked well with others. Podolski had a disappointing time in the final third.Follow @goonerdesi