How Spurs changed their strategy to contain Arsenal

Sep 26, 2023

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LONDON, England – The tactical conflicts that formed Sunday’s north London derby are analyzed by Alex Keble.

The draw between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby on Sunday is examined by Alex Keble.

Ange Postecoglou will be the happier of the two managers after seeing his players exhibit the fortitude necessary for “Ange ball” to succeed in a tumultuous, energizing, and immensely entertaining 2-2 draw between Arsenal and Spurs.

The daring, attacking style of football played by Postecoglou is a high-risk, high-reward tactic that calls for courage and self-belief. The entire system collapses if the players don’t buy in or if they hide in the face of a challenging situation.

The Spurs most certainly didn’t do that. They challenged Arsenal and tried to win on their own terms, twice coming back from goals down to even the score. It is evidence of the psychological benefits of playing aggressively offensive football, and so far this season, Spurs have earned eight points from a losing position, which is the second-most of any team.

Arsenal has grounds for optimism, as well. They exploited Spurs’ deficiencies for significant stretches, particularly in the opening half, until things started to falter a little after Declan Rice’s injury.

The tactical tale of the north London derby is presented here.

Saka changes and Arsenal’s pressure hurt the Spurs

Arsenal’s set-up provided them the advantage in two different ways prior to Rice’s explosion and the patterns changing (more on that below).

First, Arteta successfully pinned the Spurs inside their own half with a high press. While normally able to bounce the ball around the corner and go out thanks to their creative usage of inverted full-backs, Postecoglou’s team discovered a means to halt them thanks to their constant desire to pass dangerously out from the back, inviting a press.

In order to take advantage of Spurs’ shape, Arteta crammed the center of the field more tightly than normal. Arsenal surrounded the area, giving the impression that the visitors were much narrower than they actually were. Normally, Spurs have numerical overloads in the midfield thanks to those full-backs diving infield.

The Spurs full-backs (circled) struggled to find space in this picture, which was shot just seconds before Gabriel Jesus tackled James Maddison but failed to take advantage of a great opportunity to make it 2-0.

After gaining possession of the ball, Arsenal swiftly and aggressively attacked via Bukayo Saka as Spurs struggled to exit their own half. Only Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko had more touches (38 total) throughout the first half than he did.

As Spurs’ full-backs are expected to defend the flank alone, Arsenal’s strategy was to rapidly move the ball from one side to the other. Destiny Udogie’s early dismissal set the tone for his altercation with Saka, and he was solely responsible for allowing the latter to cut inside and score the opening goal for the Gunners.

Spurs’ calculated risk-taking is rewarded as Postecoglou adjusts.

The first equalizer by the Spurs served as a textbook illustration of how Postecoglou’s unyielding strategies can instill confidence in his team.

Spurs persevered despite Arsenal’s successful press, finally breaking the lines, setting up in the other half, and forcing an equalizer minutes later.

After this goal, the tide turned, and the Spurs had much more success getting out. This was due to a number of various factors.

The Spurs players most likely came up with a change on their own, but Postecoglou appeared to adjust his build-up structure, which is maybe most significant. When confronted with that compact group of bodies, Spurs started to divide more widely and maneuver around their hosts.

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