Tactical Focus: Tottenham v Arsenal

This weekend sees the resumption of the North London derby but with only a matter of weeks in the season left the tables have been well and truly reversed, with Spurs playing at home and sitting second in the league table whilst their fierce rivals Arsenal have to visit White Hart Lane sitting in sixth place a huge fourteen points behind Spurs.

The narrative surrounding the tie sees Arsenal still seen as a struggling side with Arsene Wenger coming under increasing pressure to step down and start the transition process for the club beginning a new era and moving away from the single decision maker model.

Spurs on the other hand are in a far more positive place. A second consecutive season where they are involved in the title race right up until the final stages points towards the clubs development in to one that can challenge at the very top of the domestic game.

The performances from Spurs under Mauricio Pochettino to this point have been excellent, with the Argentinian coach finally having the squad that plays in his image. The only exception may be the relative lack of quality in the forward areas behind Harry Kane.

A victory in this match for Spurs would go a long way to securing qualification for next season’s Champions League while also having the added benefit of all but ruling Arsenal out of qualifying for the competition in their own right.

Spurs need to access the final third and Deli Alli

Deli Alli has been a standout player for Spurs and England this season with his performances elevating his status to one of the most highly rated young players in Europe.

His role within the club is key to the overall attacking structure as he performs the link role between the midfield and the attack with an uncanny ability to find pockets of space both in the final third and perhaps more crucially in the opposition penalty area.

With the continued improvement of Harry Kane as a lone striker and his ability to effectively pin two opposition central defenders back we are seeing more space being created for the likes of Alli and Eriksen in particular to exploit.

In this match expect to see Spurs look to access the space in between the defence and midfield and find Alli as often as possible in an attempt to create overloads in vertical lanes around the edges of the Arsenal penalty area.

Along with the importance of Kane in creating space for Alli, we should see the likes of Christian Eriksen in particular look to make movements across the zone occupied by Alli to give Spurs momentarily numerical overloads in that area and in order to free Alli in to even more space. These runs will be especially testing for an Arsenal side who are structurally weak in the area ahead of their own defence, with Granit Xhaka not living up to expectations following his big money move from Germany.

Arsenal need to find a way to get the best out of Mesut Ozil

The German playmaker when in form can be mercurial with the ball at his feet, finding space and passing angles that most players would be completely unaware of.

When out of form – as he has been for large parts of the season – he can be a passenger within the game that his team can ill afford to carry.

If Spurs line up with a three man defence with the excellent Victor Wanyama shielding the defence then the space for Ozil to operate in the traditional ’10’ role will be negated. Instead, Arsenal may be well served to shift Ozil out to the right hand side where his ability to drift off the line in to space in the central areas could be effective in breaking down the Spurs defensive block.

With Hector Bellerin capable of attacking and defending up the entire right side of the field, Ozil would be freed to take up dangerous positions within the opposition’s half of the pitch.

All of this, however, is predicated on Arsenal being able to control the tempo and pace of the game as it develops and for this there will need to be a huge improvement from the sides central midfielders who have been unable to impress themselves upon the opposition in recent matches.

With Spurs proving themselves to be exceptionally adaptable tactically, the onus will be on Arsene Wenger to put in place a game plan that can take advantage of the weak points of the Spurs system. With Ozil playing from the wide area, Arsenal would be able to field an extra central midfielder to both nullify the threat of Deli Alli and create opportunities to overload the central areas going forward.

Conclusion

The smart money in this match will be firmly on Spurs with the home advantage and the better form coming in to the match.

The tactical flexibility of Pochettino and Spurs has been one of the highlights of the Premier League season, with the combination of a young squad and exciting attacking football serving to prove that Spurs are one of the top teams in the country.

Arsenal on the other hand, appear almost out of ideas tactically and unable to adapt, looking beyond their basic game plan.

But if there is ever a match in which form can go out of the window it will be this one.

 


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