Andre Villas Boas has taken a lot of stick from some Tottenham fans over recent weeks, despite the challenges he has faced in his short time at the helm at White Hart Lane. Some have questioned his ‘negative’ tactics and him not playing ‘the Tottenham way’. Question marks have been placed on his team selection and how he has set the team out to play. He has been in a position where he is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. The press had a field day over his keeper selection, questioning why he hasn’t installed the French no1 and captain of the national team as his 1st choice keeper, yet being in uproar when he has started over Friedel.
Similarly he was met with howls of derision when he opted to start with Adebayor over Defoe after the latter had just scored a hat-trick in the midweek Europa league tie against Maribor. I for one agreed fully with the selection of Adebayor and I am sure those that understand the game would’ve done too. Adebayor offers more of a presence in away games, with the ability to hold the ball up and link play. It was a game where we weren’t going to see too much of the ball, so when we had it, we had to make sure we held it.
With the negative press and some (a minority it must be added) fans starting to turn on Villas Boas, it may come as a surprise that he came out of a game where he had just been taken apart by our closest rivals with more respect and appreciation than he has done in recent weeks.
For the game against Arsenal, Villas Boas named a bold starting lineup. Those that had clamoured for him to start Adebayor and Defoe together for the first time in the league got their wish. I personally thought this could have been a massive mistake. Redknapp went with this approach last season and despite taking a 2 goal lead in that game, we capitulated in spectacular fashion. With 2 up top we were outnumbered and outplayed by Arsenal’s 3 in midfield and ended up taking a hiding. Although it was the same outcome eventually, Villas Boas’s approach to the game may have worked had it not been a ludicrous tackle from Adebayor that saw him receive a deserved dismissal.
A Villas Boas 4-4-2 immediately seemed more flexible in approach. Adebayor was expected to drop deeper, fill in as an additional midfielder and look to link the play. This approach appeared to work in the early stages of the game until the red card completely changed the game plan. With a shaky Arsenal defence, the movement of Spurs’ attacking players was causing all sorts of problems. A defensive mistake coupled with poor goalkeeping allowed Adebayor to put Spurs ahead –no more than they deserved. Lennon was mere inches away from making it two.
Then it happened – a moment of madness from Adebayor. He is a player with a history of getting overly pumped up when playing his old teams. He could easily have picked up a second yellow against City the week before. It was a rash challenge that did not have to be made, it was on the halfway line and there was no danger.
This changed the game significantly. Villas Boas’s game plan that had been working perfectly up to that point had been thrown out the window. This is not to say that Tottenham would’ve gone on to win the game but they would certainly have had a lot more of a chance. The sending off galvanised Arsenal and when they pulled level it was evident to everyone watching it would only be a matter of time before Arsenal took the lead. It was inevitable and the goals came courtesy of some terrible defending.
Where AVB earned a lot of praise was in his half time changes. Not just a change in personnel, but also a change in system. This gave Spurs fans evidence that AVB is adaptable and can change his system to fit with the games circumstances. In the last game at the Emirates back in February, Redknapp was unable to use half time to change the game in our favour. It was 11 against 11, we had sacrificed a two goal lead an Redknapp was devoid of ideas.
AVB took off both of his fullbacks (who both had very disappointing games. Walcott had given Naughton a torrid time – although he was not helped out defensively by Bale, while Walker also had a poor game with a terrible passing percentage of just 47%) and put on Dawson and Dempsey. Switching to 3 at the back and pushing Dempsey forward to join Defoe in attack. Many may have expected to see AVB try and shut up shop to keep the score to a respectable level, but credit where it’s due, he went out to attack and try and get something from the game.
There were always going to be gaps at the back for Arsenal to exploit but for long periods in the 2nd half Spurs looked comfortable in possession and most likely to score. Inevitably though the space afforded to Arsenal was taken advantage of, putting them into a comfortable position at 4-1.
Spurs rallied back and after making it 4-2, if Bale had looked up minutes later, Defoe could have had a tap in to make it 4-3. With the Emirates crowd getting nervous and Arsenal not having being in the greatest of form, the unexpected could have happened and Spurs could have nicked a draw against the odds.
It wasn’t to be and Walcott made it 5-2 late on. However, Villas Boas can take a lot of credit from how he went about the 2nd half. While Harry sat twitching in the dugout last season, lacking any kind of idea how to get something out of the game, AVB displayed an adaptable approach.
With players coming back in the next few weeks, AVB will have the players at his disposal to adapt to various systems. There was evidence of this in the game at the weekend, and he also made the right changes at half time against QPR earlier in the season to turn it round. Dembele coming back into the team is a massive bonus and there has also been positive news with Parker returning to training. With these two players coming back and young Tom Carroll showing plenty of maturity and passing technique in his brief spell as a late substitute, there are suddenly more midfield options open to AVB in the coming weeks.
He has certainly shown that he is adaptable and willing to tweak his system. Given time, I am sure he will do this to great effect.
With Adebayor out for the next 3 games, we are reliant on AVB to get this right in the coming games.