Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

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.

Midfielders too close to each other

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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.

Jenkinson not helping anyone

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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.

Individual Performances:

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.

15 Responses to Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. jcloud says:

    Another heartache… but these days I’m just trying to be philosophical…

  2. Pat Rice says:

    Its hard to imagine Giroud getting in many teams in the prem, would he start ahead of benteke, whos team are in the bottom 3, of course he wouldnt. I have a feeling Wenger will flog this horse to death. He is an average striker who could probably do well in a championship team. It breaks my heart to see such a lumbering forward when we have had bergkamp, anelka, Henry, Van persie and now we have Giroud, my god we have gone backwards.

  3. Dobromir says:

    No pressure on the ball from midfield and a defensive line which is in dissarey with no one really knowing who to pick up, whether to stay, drop deep or push up and all four defenders on a different wavelength were the cause of our downfall and have been for some time now. I support Wenger as the manager and person to get us on the road to success, but if these defensive lapses are not addressed next season (too late in this one in my opinion) then he simply must go. I can accept losing games, but throwing goals to the opposition in every single match is becoming too much to bear even for a 100% ardent fan like myself to the point where i need to stop caring about the results in order to be able to even watch the games. Bayern will tear us a new one next week unless we put ten men behind the ball and try to pick something on the counter. Any other approach, especially the gung ho, thow the kitchen sink at them and don’t worry about the defence one will most likely result in further huniliation for the team and the fans. A narrow defeat will be acceptable in the current situation, while a 6-7 goal trashing most certainly will put the nail in the coffin to Wenger and his team.

  4. Arsenal: We have become the home of perennial heartbreaks. Redemption!

  5. Ghost Writer says:

    If we are not active this summer, I don’t know how we will avoid following the Liverpool path!

  6. If Giroud goes down this road at this rate, then we have another Ligue 1 Gervinho on our hands!

  7. […] I don’t fully agree with the opinion offered, there is much to learn from what Neville […] …read more Read more here: […]

  8. Dave Ingram says:

    Fabregas in midfield would have won it for us, Wilshire,does not have the eye for the throughball yet! there were countless time we could have scored a Lennon but there is not enough cohesion between midfield and strikers, Walcott never got behind the defence like he should have, move Wilshire back to DM and allow Arteta to make those telling forward passes. Carzola needs to also look more for the through ball pass Even Song would have done that..

  9. shottagunna says:

    Very interesting observations Desi. In the run up to the 1st goal I observed the indecision by the midfielders as well but you have found a way to connect all the threads. In the post game analysis the tendency is to find the immediate scapegoats, Vermalean and Mertesacker. This is the way of the vast majority pundits and bloggers over the past few years but as you have observed for the past two years, our defensive mistakes usually start higher up the field. The big problem is we play an attacking game which requires not only technical skills but tactical intelligence. The latter comes from experience. Chopping and changing personnel annually makes it difficult. I hope we have some stability this summer so we can systematically address some of these issues.

    • finsbury says:

      Great comment Shotta and true too. Desi’s work is deserving of a wider audience, even though I don’t always agree (I’m sure desi won’t mind. 🙂 )
      For me a game that helped me to understand how Arsenalssque teams get their synchronicity going was the Fulham Home game. The first home game at the start of the 07/08. In hindsight that is regarded as a very good squad, although there were many critics at the time! And at times during that Fulham game they looked brilliant, at times a shambles. They came from a goal down to win the game, showing some true grit. And that squad went on to play some top top football.

      It is undeniable that at the start of their season the 07/08 team was more settled then the squad we had at the start of this season by a factor of ten to the power of ten. Momentum, support, all the other football cliches play a part too. Throw them in the mix.

      And lest we forget, Abu Dhabi City and Gazprom-upon-Chelsea spent some seasons and just a little money before their squads were able to challenge. The core of Chelsea’s squad began to develop in about 02 into the team that won the title in 05. Before Abramovich.
      City fans probably have tried to forget that they were once owned by (a political faction from?) Thailand, before being owned by the Emirates. Somewhere amidst all the offshore deals of ginormous sums of money are some football teams.

  10. Ferdinand masinde says:

    Guys laughed when i told them we will miss song more than RVP!see now,no stability in midfield and defence was left exposed..he could also have contributed afew assists

  11. tuneric says:

    Oh! my desi’s write up is now like Wenger’s thoughts, cant believe i just read from you. lets face the real fact, this game is not worth breaking down but facing the real truth that Wengers has lost it. it was a flat arsenal due to wrong tactics and wrong selection of players. please please and please lets not judge Wenger by the past but present………. it’s not by our players but the way we play.
    we have good and world class players in arsenal, moreover not all teams cant boast of world class XI but like 4 or 5 mixed with others.

  12. Nepali Gunner says:

    Interesting analysis. Clearly issues.

    I think you are right that Neville was analyzing the defense from a Man U perspective, but I do think the key piece was that when you see a opposition midfielder running at you without pressure, what do you do. I agree with him that Vermaelaen was too agressive, and his chances of an interception was very small.

    Anyways, not problems you can solve overnight. Let’s just hope it does not cost us in the run in.

  13. santori says:

    1)Not sure why Wenger played Ramsey. I get that he is improving but clearly he is less combative than Jack and not able to win the ball back when dispossessed.

    Thereby, the better thing to do (particularly when Wenger noticed Bale in the middle at line up) would be to have shifted Jack next to Arteta to stay more compact on Bale. Instead, there was far too much space in and around Arteta.

    2) Substitutions again too late. Podolski should have come on way earlier. Nothing was done to alter/react to Spurs set up nor after the first goal.

    3) High line. I believe what Neville meant was that when dropping back several yards that the midfield would be drilled to do the same. I have quite a bit of respect for the ex United man in his punditry (where I use to hate him as a player). I think he has highlighted a kink in the armour that has been quite obvious for a while but that we’ve gotten away with largely bc we don’t normally face the sort of asset/set up that AVB decided to try on us on the left against a recent addition in Monreal.

    What is more perplexing for me is our (Gaffer’s) inability to react to things happening on the pitch quickly…except it isn’t really as this has been a consistent theme which will not be fixed even with new additions to squad.

    Wish you were able to break down your analysis on video like GN. Would be fantastic.

    Dour days ahead for us.

  14. Kushagra says:

    Offbeat question is why do you think 4-4-2 is dead Mancini Laudrup employing it. Will ove to hear from here or on twitter

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