A draw at the Emirates Stadium at Sunday lunchtime did not really help out either team. Tottenham are now without a win in four Premier League games, Arsenal missed a chance to go top and the neutral spectator did not get treated to the sort of goal bonanza fireworks that we expect from the north London derby.
A change in system from Spurs saw the centre of the pitch packed. Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Wimmer and Eric Dier played as a back three for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, as he released Kyle Walker and Danny Rose into wing-back roles. Walker suffered a torrid game in midweek, as he was pressed into constant mistakes by Bayer Leverkusen.
Arsenal, as expected, did not change anything about their play. The absence of Santi Cazorla left the midfield looking short of ideas in the early build-up phase, even with the return of Granit Xhaka. The presence of three central midfielders for Tottenham – Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen – crowded the space that Arsenal would usually exploit. Mesut Ozil, as a result, could not have the sort of influence on the game that has been so pivotal to Arsenal’s season to date.
The matchup of Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 against Tottenham’s 3-5-2 allowed Spurs to dominate possession and restrict Arsenal to fast transition chances on the whole. As can be seen on the image of Spurs’ tackles attempted below, the Lilywhites forced Arsenal to play with more width that usual and were not as focused on pressing them high up the pitch. Wary of the speed of Walcott and Sanchez, Pochettino’s side aimed to win the ball on the flanks, rather than risk opening up spaces between the lines centrally.
Later in the game, some poor decision making perhaps cost Arsenal a late, dramatic winner, but a draw, all in all, was the fairest result. Spurs’ system, again, was to blame for Arsenal’s creative difficulties, even once they had changed to a slightly more direct approach with Olivier Giroud on the pitch.
Arsenal were the team who showed most ambition to win the game, as expected at home. A draw does not harm either side, nor does it do either much good in the league. Both lost ground on Chelsea and Liverpool – who were sensational this weekend – and respectively face challenging fixtures after the international break.
Games are seldom ‘must-win’ at this time of the year and that showed at the Emirates. A draw, when there is more to lose than gain, seemed a satisfactory result for both managers and fans. Little was lost, little gained, with injuries the only legacy that this game will have beyond the upcoming international break.