Arsenal take on Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday in what will be Unai Emery’s first north London derby as the Gunners’ boss.
Although his side are currently enjoying an 18-game unbeaten streak, it’ll take a massive performance for them to triumph over their bitter rivals, who remain three points ahead of them in the Premier League table. The Spanish manager can look to Chelsea’s recent failings, though, to give him a guide on how to overcome Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
Pochettino produced a tactical masterclass to guide Spurs to a comfortable victory over Maurizio Sarri’s before-then unbeaten Chelsea outfit last time out.
However, the Blues were certainly guilty of failing to adapt to the situation on the pitch, and as such they played into Spurs’ hands throughout the match. The issue was a lack of two key attributes in the Chelsea team: versatility and pace.
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Chelsea lacked versatility in that they were hugely over-reliant upon Jorginho to orchestrate all of their advances up the field. With Jorginho removed from the equation, Sarri’s side lacked a plan B.
Spurs were able to take Jorginho out the game by pressing aggressively high up the pitch and pinning the midfielder back, too deep in his own territory to dictate the game.
Tottenham were allowed to execute this plan, and station themselves in such advanced positions, because Chelsea’s attacking contingent lacked the pace to play off the shoulder of the defence and threaten to break in behind the high line.
Those two factors were the pillars of Spurs’ tactical superiority and dominance on the field. They also form the blueprint for what the Gunners must avoid.
Fortunately, for Emery, he has the requisite qualities in his squad to avoid Chelsea’s fate.
In the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin, the home side boast an abundance of pace, which ought to give the Spurs defence second thoughts about advancing so high up the pitch.
Like Chelsea with Jorginho, Arsenal also operate with a deep-lying playmaker, Granit Xhaka. However, their main creative outlet comes from their inverted wide players, such as Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Iwobi.
The variance that these players offer in Arsenal’s approach play could prove crucial to undermining Spurs’ high-pressing game that specifically targets one individual.
On Sunday then, Arsenal’s Plan A must be to embrace every alternative plan they have, as variance and unpredictability are likely the keys to success.