By Vikram Vijaay (@VVijaay )
The game started with both teams fielding 4-3-3 formations, however they were vastly different. The main difference was in the composition of the midfield trio. While we set up with three players known for their ball-playing skills, Tottenham played three very physical players to break up the play and distribute it to wide areas. Wilshere and Ramsay sat deep with Rosicky the furthest forward of the trio with Santi being the “left winger”. A major feature of the first half was the rotation of these players.
Tottenham lined up in a similar manner however, their midfield trio featured a deeper AM in Paulinho. Dembele and Capoue sat deeper and in a more disciplined manner than their Arsenal equivalents.
The first 15 minutes
At the very start of the game, both Rose and Walker were positioned very high up the pitch, pushing on past their wide players creating an overload on the wings. Initially, both our full backs struggled to deal with this, both Gibbs and Jenkinson beaten early on. Offensively, attempts to play Walcott in behind were unsuccessful as Rose was quick enough to cover.
To deal with the overloads on the wing, Walcott dropped far deeper, operating effectively as a right midfielder. He had initially started playing almost as a striker. Wilshere remained as the deepest midfielder, and was very responsible in his role. Rosicky and Cazorla rotated most often, both drifting across the pitch although Ramsey also rotated with these two. The left wing was strangely left unattended for large amounts of the game, as Walker rarely foraged forward, strange given his usual attacking intent.
Townsend presented a threat throughout the first half, having turned Gibbs early on. Gibbs stood off a lot more- Townsend was nullified only offering a threat when cutting in to shoot. This worked effectively with Townsend doing little of note after the first 30 minutes, being subbed eventually. The team as a whole sat back a lot more, allowing Tottenham to have possession, only pressing in our half and countering with pace. Rose was often left at sea in the first half. Given, the initial ineffectiveness of Walcott against Rose, Wenger changed it around.
For the rest of the half, Walcott was rarely his opponent, he was more likely to be up against Rosicky or Cazorla. The threat posed by these two was very different and Rose struggled with this throughout the first half. The goal reflected much of the early play and was directly caused by this decision. Arsenal countered quickly- Walcott’s run from outside to in pulled Rose inside, creating space for Rosicky who had floated over to the right wing. Rose came out to cover Rosicky, leaving acres in behind for Walcott. He pulled the ball across for Giroud to finish with an impeccably timed run to the front post.
Less than 5 minutes later, the same happened again. Ramsey broke down the right wing, Rose came over to cover him and Walcott was played in behind only for Lloris to save.
After the goal, the play continued in much the same manner- Arsenal sitting deep and breaking, trying time and again to exploit Theo’s pace. On a couple of occasions, this was almost successful, Lloris doing a fine job of sweeping up in behind.
Use of the Centre Forward
Giroud and Soldado are very similar forwards on the face of it. Forwards with a physical and aerial presence. The big difference was in how they were utilised. With Arsenal sitting deep, the ball was often played long up to him. He did a fantastic job of holding it up and bringing others into play. On the other hand, Soldado was not involved in the build-up. The ball was played wide with the objective of playing it into to Soldado in the box.
The difference was stark- in the first half, Giroud had 25 touches, compared to just 10 for Soldado. Arsenal’s use of Giroud is best shown by looking at aerial duels. He won 7 out of 9 duels- both representing game highs.
The second half started at a much higher tempo, both teams were pressing much higher and the game became stretched with Arsenal trying to counter regularly. Amidst this, a lot more space was offered to their midfield three. Flamini was instrumental in us retaining our shape, organising the midfield and directing the pressing game. After a hectic 10 minutes or so, the game reverted to much the similar style as the first half, albeit slightly more extreme. Flamini played a much deeper role than Jack had and stopped rotating with Ramsey.
Prior to Dembele’s replacement, Tottenham switched to a more attacking style with Chadli moving more central in an attempt to involve him in the play with Rose playing almost as a left winger. Chadli had very little impact in the first half on the left wing. The shift to play him more centrally also had very little impact and it was soon after this that Defoe came on.
69’- Defoe for Dembele. The shift to 4-4-2 was a game changer in my mind. Introducing Defoe was intended to pose a different threat to the Arsenal backline which so far had looked fairly comfortable. Both FB’s pushed up much higher and Capoue sat in effectively as a 3rd centre back. Paulinho, the one remaining CM, was overrun by the Arsenal midfield and as such, Tottenham were unable to create and get the ball forward. With Arsenal sitting deeper, the loss of the centre proved costly for Tottenham as Arsenal’s midfield trio were able to cover whichever flank Tottenham attacked down.
75’- Capoue came off with an injury, Sandro being his replacement and fulfilling the same role. Lamela came on for Townsend and presented much more of a threat. With Walker becoming increasingly more offensive and overlapping, Lamela was afforded more space. Wenger responded immediately bringing on Monreal. The duo of Gibbs and Monreal were able to cope with the pace of Walker and also restricted Lamela very effectively. He got free on one occasion when both LB’s were sucked inside, however 3 Arsenal players were on him in a flash.
As Tottenham lost the midfield battle, Paulinho came ever deeper to receive the ball, however, he was still pressed immediately. With their inability to spread the play due to this, they played increasingly more direct. Sagna’s substitution at the end helped to waste time and provide more ariel strength to counter this.
Arsene Wenger played this game perfectly. The first 15 minutes showed that Arsenal would be vulnerable if they attempted to knock it around as they often do. He reverted to the counter attacking style which helped them in the back end of last season as I wrote about here: http://goo.gl/DhJmWn Wenger noticed the back four of Tottenham when countered against was very poor. They played a high line and yet did not maintain a straight back 4. It was very reminiscent of other games against AVB- the 5-3 win against Chelsea and the 2-1 loss to Spurs.
Rosicky and Cazorla were clearly given a free license to float across the AM “band” and caused numerous problems, especially to Danny Rose. The team were compact and pressed efficiently allowing no space for Tottenham. The switch to 4-4-2 effectively killed Tottenham’s chance of creating as it allowed Arsenal to dominate the central areas forcing Tottenham to play long. The substitution of Monreal was very important, ensuring Lamela had little impact on the game. Arsenal defended resolutely, ending the game playing a 6-3-1. Who said we had no fit defenders left?
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