Tactical Analysis: The North London Derby

The most anticipated match of the quarter finals of the Carabao Cup saw Tottenham given a chance to exact their revenge for their loss against Arsenal only 17 days before.

Spurs, sitting third in the Premier League table and having qualified from a tough group in the Champions League, are having a good season so far coming to this match in fairly good form. Mauricio Pochettino’s squad is arguably reaching its peak as key players have returned from injury and most of their serious injury woes are now behind them.

On the other hand, the Gunners’ unbeaten run of 22 games across all competitions ended Sunday against Southampton, leaving them 5th in the Premier League table as they seem to have come back down to earth after a terrific run of form. But, on the whole, Unai Emery’s team has definitely played well so far this season and he’s done well to keep Wenger’s attractive style, while also adding some balance to the team.

This all meant the match was poised to be a good one as both teams sought to get another one up on their North London neighbors.


Arsenal’s Set Up

Although the system was fluid and could change around, Arsenal was generally set up in a basic 4-2-3-1 formation in possession. Out of possession it was more of a flexible 4-4-2 with Ramsey pushing forward to join Aubameyang to press Spurs’ backline. One of their main threats was Ramsey, who had complete freedom to move as he liked thanks to his #10 role. Moving freely and combining with Iwobi and Mkhitaryan meant Rambo was often Arsenal’s most dangerous players. Ramsey is a player known for his smart movement and that was clearly something Emery looked to utilize.

However, the Gunners’ pressing was a weakness as it was often uncoordinated and sloppy. This was often created by the disconnect between Ramsey and his fellow midfielders. Ramsey would initiate the press, running towards the CBs, but after one CB passed to the other, there was little support behind him. Spurs had an easy out and then Guendouzi and the rest of the midfield would have to scramble. This left Eriksen and the other Spurs players with lots of open space.

Examples of Arsenal’s disjointed press. Made it easy for Spurs to play out.

Tottenham’s Set Up

Tottenham was generally also set up in a 4-2-3-1, but like Arsenal’s system it was fairly fluid. Plus, much like how Arsenal’s system relied on the movement of Ramsey, Spurs’ often relied on the movement of Dele Alli. The versatility of Spurs’ attack was superb – they would have Son through the middle with Lucas providing the width, Lucas up top and Son staying wide, or even having one of them drop off the line allowing Dele to make a run forward. They used this advantage to interchange positions the entire game. At one point, they created a chance by having Lucas drop between the lines and successfully receive ¬†from Sissoko on the flank while Dele made a darting run in between the opponent CB & LB. This space was created by the fluid movement of the entire front 5 and it was great to watch.

A feature of Spurs’ system was the movement of Dele. When Son or Lucas would drop into deeper areas (or Kane in the 2nd half), Dele would move forward to occupy the space they left.

Out of possession they used a narrow 4-3-3 with a high line and an emphasis on high pressing. One of Tottenham’s specialties is the ability to field such a high number of players that are able to attack and also keep the high intensity of attacking and defending and this was evident throughout.

Tottenham dominated attacking transitions most of the time due to Arsenal’s lack of speed, their sloppiness in possession, as well as Spurs’ smart pressing. They progressed the ball with speed and their attackers played with purpose. This was displayed on the 1st goal as Gazzaniga quickly released the ball forward and Lucas (tucking in from his wide position) prodded the ball to Dele who immediately found Son (who had interchanged with Lucas).¬†

That led to the all important 1st goal and a similar play would end up leading to the 2nd as Kane dropped deep after another kick by Gazzaniga and Dele took the space by making a forward run. He was found brilliantly and the finish was even better and that was that.

Image result for dele 2 0

Arsenal did tweak their line up in the 2nd half as Koscielny took Mkhitaryan’s spot, and Nketiah and Lacazette came in, but they were unable to swing the tie in their favor.

Ultimately, this North London Derby may have only been a Carabao Cup match, but it felt like a more significant game and it was an intriguing watch from a tactical perspective as two similar managers employed two similar set ups. The difference on this day was the cohesion in Spurs’ pressing and the quality from Son, Dele, and Kane to score the goals.


Written by Tomer (@JTElCapitano)