The two fixtures that all Spurs fans look out for at the start of the season are both games against Arsenal. These are the games that they want to win more than anything. On Sunday, Tottenham fans headed to the emirates full of optimism. They were on form and had brushed Newcastle aside with ease in their previous fixture – for the first time in two decades they had the possibility of doing the double over their arch rivals. Sitting 10 points clear of Arsenal this was a fantastic opportunity to pull 13 points clear and cement a firmer grip on 3rd place in the league. Many thought a Tottenham win could signify a power shift in North London.
We eagerly anticipated the lineup and formation that Harry Redknapp would select. A 4-4-2 worked well at home against Newcastle but would this leave us light in midfield with a central pairing outnumbered by Arsenal’s typical 3 man midfield? In the home game this happened for long spells in the 2nd half where Arsenal dominated possession. Redknapp spotted the danger and rectified this by putting Sandro on for Van Der Vaart to bolster our central midfield.
In his pre match press conference Redknapp again alluded to this fact – “It’s a difficult one, because if you play 4-4-2 against them you’re going to get outnumbered in the middle of the park, it’s something we’ll have to look at because you don’t want to get overrun in the middle of the field”
Despite being aware of this, Redknapp decided to go with 4-4-2, possibly sensing a weakness within the Arsenal defence that conceded 4 goals in Milan. Taking a 2 goal lead this almost looked justified. However, despite going 2-0 ahead, Arsenal had pretty much dominated the game from the first minute. They were able to out play and more disappointingly out-fight us. They seemed to be more up for the game than we were, competing for each and every ball, winning the 50/50s and controlling the game.
The stats below compare Tottenham’s central midfield pairing compared to the 3 that played in the centre for Arsenal – proving that Redknapp was right to be worried about Arsenal dominating possession and controlling the midfield.
Firstly it is possible to look at the tackling stats. Each of the Arsenal 3 had a higher percentage of tackles won (although Scott Parker and Song were equal). Arteta was maybe surprisingly the most successful tackler with 80% success rate with 4 of his 5 tackles proving successful. If we also consider ground duals won (GDW %) Arsenal were again more successful – highlighting their increased desire to win the ball. Modric only managed to win 2 of his 12 ground duals leaving him with the worst success rate with 17%. If you compare this to Arsenal’s more creative midfielders, both Rosicky (55%) and Arteta (73%) were more effective at winning the ball.
We can also look at the passing zones of both teams. Modric attempted 26 passes within his own half (TPO) and was successful with only 77% of these. This is testament to Arsenal pressing high up the pitch and forcing the normally mercurial Modric into mistakes. However, Modric was more successful in the opposition half with 87% accuracy (AHP%) The standout stats from here are that each of the Arsenal trio attempted double the passes that the Tottenham men managed in the opposition half. Arsenal enjoyed a lot of possession in the attacking third. This is emphasised further by the fact that Rosicky and Song attempted more passes in the final 3rd (TFT) than the Tottenham 2 managed in the Arsenal half.
Redknapp again realised that we were being outnumbered in midfield and was holding out for half time to make the changes. Two goals in quick succession meant that we went into the halftime break level. Redknapp made the changes bringing on Van Der Vaart and Sandro for Saha and Kranjcar. The intention was to match Arsenal in midfield with Sandro helping out with defensive duties and Van Der Vaart also able to play a deeper role dropping back to make up numbers in the middle of the park.
This did not go to plan, and Arsenal went on to score a further 3 goals within the first 25 minutes of the second half to win the game convincingly. In truth it could have been more. When the substitutions were made there seemed to be a lack of instruction – Sandro often playing far more advanced than you would expect to see him. The fitness of both of these players was also questionable.
In this game it could be argued that Redknapp displayed tactical naïvety. He spotted the problems that playing 442 against a 3 man midfield but still went for it. It was also noticeable that we were being overrun in midfield yet he held out until half time to make the substitutions. By this time the damage had already been done.
Tottenham have played their best football with Lennon and Bale hugging the touch-line and providing width. Bale moving inside and playing a free role has proven to be in-effectual in recent weeks. With Lennon also not playing we have lacked width on both sides. Hopefully Redknapp will go back to this formation that has served us so well throughout the season.
It is one thing being outplayed by Arsenal but to be out-fought is perhaps more disappointing. Despite the result it has been a great season so far and to put things in perspective we are still 7 points clear of our closest rivals.
Hopefully this game was just a blip, with a very difficult game coming up against United at the weekend, it is important to regroup and get back to playing the type of football we are capable of.