Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur: tactical battle

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The first two matches: What have we learnt?

Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have shown, in their first two league games, a consistent type of football. Ironically, it has provided the same 1-0 result (through a penalty) for Tottenham but a trashing to Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium and a 3-1 win away to Fulham for Arsenal.

The answer to Arsenal's conundrum lies mainly in the different approach taken by their opponents and the introduction of Lucas Podolski against Fulham. At the Emirates Villa packed up the middle area in front of the box to cut down the possibility of their wingers cutting in and their central players to have space in that area while relying on Christian Benteke and the speed and work rate of their wingers to break forward.

On the other hand, Fulham disregarded Arsenal's prowess in that area and to their demise left space for the wingers to cut in and central players to play just outside the box. We have witnessed Tomas Rosicky needing consistently to come out to the centre of the pitch to have a touch on the ball against Villa to Aaron Ramsey having the time to comfortably control the ball just outside the box.

Having said that, in both matches Arsenal looked very weak when defending, especially being very poorly covered by their defensive midfielders. Against Villa, Wilshere was out of his depth acting as a holding midfielder, while against Fulham Taarabt was causing a lot of trouble when getting in the central areas.

Furthermore when Rosicky was pulled deeper to help Ramsey in the holding role, considering that Theo Walcott and Podolski were not on covering duties, they were exposed on the sides.

On the other hand Tottenham were involved in two games (Crystal Palace and Swansea) where the area in front of the box of their opponents was guarded heavily, especially against Crystal Palace.

Both teams were happy to concede spaces on the wing for Spurs. However they were still finding it hard to penetrate and be dangerous, mainly because of their reluctance to change their focus of attack and playing the ball around to expose cracks in their opponent's defensive setup.

Considering that this was repeated in the first two matches it may be seen as a flaw in Andre Villas Boas' philosophy of play where he might be a victim of his own vertical football vision.

Tottenham's new signings seem to be settling well with Paulinho being impressive in the midfield while Chadli, Capoue and Soldado although not impressing that much seem to be doing their job.

The next match: What do we expect?

Considering all their injuries Arsenal will probably be in a similar shape as against Villa. Szczesny in goal with Sagna, Koscielny, Matresacker and Gibbs at the back, Wilshere and Ramsey in the holding positions with Rosicky in front of them, Walcott and Cazorla on the wings and Giroud as a striker.

There is also the possibility of Cazorla and Rosicky exchanging places. Wilshere and Ramsey are both nursing minor knocks acquired during the Champions League match against Fenerbahce, thus if one of them fails to make the line up on Sunday, it would be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger will fill up that hole considering that Arteta and Diaby are ruled out.

Tottenham will probably line up with Lloris in goal, Walker, Dawson, Verthongen and Rose at the back, Townsend and Chadli on the wings and Soldado up front. The only question is the three in the middle of the park. Paulinho will most definitely start together with two of Dembele, Sigurdsson and Capoue.

Villas-Boas will probably line up with Dembele and Sigurdsson, since they are his most experienced pair to the rhythm of the Premier League.

Up front Arsenal possess the guile and ability to ask different questions to Spurs than Palace and Swansea did, however Tottenham are more than able to close down that space into which Arsenal flourished against Fulham. Furthermore Arsenal have lost maybe their most powerful player from the middle five, that is Podolski.

Their three central midfielders together with their wingers provide a technical challenge to any other team but their physical power is weak and I can see a Paulinho - Dembele - Sigurdsson trio overpowering their midfield and disrupting their rhythm while denying them space between the lines.

Arsenal's main threat will have to be the Walcott's speed, as Spurs will try to keep short distance between their defence and midfield and considering that AVB does not like to have a deep line of defence their might be space for Walcott beyond the defensive lines. However if Spurs' three midfielders do not allow time on the ball to Arsene's technical players.

From the Tottenham side the interesting thing is that for the first time they will probably have more access to that central area in front of Arsenal's back four. Now we will be able to see the effectiveness of Soldado's movement and space for the midfielders to attack.

Also Townsend has shown he can get on the inside of defenders against Swansea as opposed to what Lennon was doing against Palace by attacking defenders on the outside.


In conclusion we are going to see a not-so-brilliant-so-far Arsenal defence put to the sword by a threat like Soldado and an overpowering midfield, while Arsenal's guile in attack will have to take on a so far a non penetrated defence.

However, in Walcott they have a weapon that can seize upon the spaces left open by AVB's team and in Giroud they have an in-form striker. I think Tottenham (despite not having Bale anymore) shall be able to overcome the Gunners and get a positive result at the Emirates.

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