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Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2: Tactical Analysis | Pre- & Post-Adebayor

The 151st London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham ended with the Gunners taking the spoils in the kind of high-scoring encounter which is rapidly becoming the norm when these two meet.

Yet a 5-2 victory for the hosts would have seemed somewhat far fetched in the early stages of the game when Spurs took a deserved lead before a hugely rash challenge from Adebayor reduced the visitors to 10 men after just 17 minutes.

Despite the Arsenal victory, the talking points from the game, tactically speaking, all arrived courtesy of Andre Villas Boas. Both his starting line up and his formation in the second half were very bold and adventurous.

Line Ups

Following the 3-3 home draw against Fulham, Wenger retained Vermaelen at left  back. With Gibbs injured and Santos deemed to be defensively suspect, a match up against Aaron Lennon was to be avoided.

In goal, Vito Mannone was replaced by the fit-again Szczesny. Coquelin made way for Wilshere, who returned from suspension.


Arsenal Starting Line Up

It was the usual formation that we now expect from Arsenal this season, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 depending upon the midfield trio’s positioning.

Andre Villa Boas switched Lloris for Friedel in goal. He also brought back Naughton for Caulker, with Vertonghen moved back into central defence.

With Dembele unavailable and Dempsey and Sigurdsson out of form, Villa Boas opted to go with both Defoe and Adebayor up front. For fans of 4-4-2 this was not quite the old fashioned British-style formation with the big man/small man front pairing.

Adebayor supported Defoe in the attacking phase of the game but often came deep during the defensive phase.

Spurs Starting Line Up


This left Sandro and Huddlestone in a midfield pairing. Whilst the midfield retained industry and energy, it lacked the mobility or finesse that Dembele can bring to the side.

Whilst the change in formation may have been surprising, with three defeats in the previous four league games, Villa Boas may have felt he had limited alternatives.

First Half Analysis with Adebayor

Spurs started brightly and with an intensity and vigour to their play which Arsenal found difficult to handle. Spurs were never going to dominate possession against Arsenal with their chosen line up. What they intended to do, and what they did very effectively, was attack Arsenal with pace in a direct fashion. There was no slow, patient build up. Spurs had an abundance of pace in their starting line-up and they sought to utilise this at every opportunity.

The opening goal was a fine example of this. Defoe moved towards the ball, dragging Mertesacker forward slightly, before spinning in behind him. A ball was flighted over the Arsenal defence which Defoe ran onto and, although his shot was parried by Szczesny, Adebayor scored from the rebound: a simple piece of play which was executed perfectly.

Lennon should probably have at least hit the target with his effort in the 12th minute. Vermaelen stood off the winger and allowed him to shoot.

Sandro was having a very positive effect on the Spurs side at this stage, dropping between the centre backs on occasion whilst also pushing forward to press Arsenal. His role was very vertical as he shuttled up and down the pitch.

Whilst Arsenal were showing signs of becoming more involved, the dismissal of Adebayor was a major incident in the first half.

First Half Analysis, Post-Adebayor

With Spurs reduced to ten men, Arsenal were always going to have more possession. Nevertheless, Spurs continued with their initial game plan of keeping a high defensive line and pressing, even if the loss of a key player made this more difficult to implement. Villas Boas used a 4-4-1 formation but Defoe is not known for tracking back and soon became isolated in attack.

Arsenal were able to build attacks more patiently without Adebayor dropping deep and goal side of Arteta to press him. The duo of Sandro and Huddlestone were now numerically disadvantaged, although Sandro in particular continued to work tirelessly in the central effort.

Per Mertesacker was the unlikely source of the equaliser. The German stayed high after a corner kick and headed home from a Walcott cross.

Sagna and Walcott were becoming more pivotal. Spurs attempted to stay compact and high and actively allowed Arsenal space on the wings. This is not an issue on the left as Vermaelen was not coming forward and Podolski is usually narrow, but the tactic failed on the right.

The key period in the game was the five minute period prior to half time. With the score level at 1-1, Arsenal were asking more questions of Spurs. Arsenal took the lead when Sandro was pulled wide to support Naughton and Bale, allowing Arteta space centrally. There was a large element of luck. A deflected pass controlled by Podolski and his shot deflecting off Gallas to give Arsenal the lead.

Giroud’s goal arrived in the 44th minute when Cazorla persisted with his run forward even after being fouled. This seemed to affect Spurs who appeared to temporarily stop, awaiting the award of a free kick. Cazorla persisted and his cut back was converted.

The biggest problem Spurs faced when dropping to ten men was the lack of workrate from their wingers in tracking back. This was particularly true of Bale on the left who left Naughton exposed 2-on-1 against Walcott and Sagna.


Next Page: Second Half Analysis, and Villas Boas: Brave, or Foolish? Read Here or click page 2 below.

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