Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Tottenham
That’s what you call a proper derby. Arsenal’s great team effort mixed with Unai Emery’s approach to the game resulted in one of the most emotional North London derbies in recent years. An outstanding second-half response from the Gunners was the reason for them getting the 4-2 win over their greatest rival Tottenham. Spurs’ only creative force was Heung-min Son, who was the reason for them taking the lead, but the lack of support by his teammates made it difficult for him to operate behind the three-man Arsenal defence. Most of the team’s opportunities came on a counter-attack with early balls to Son, but somehow the Gunners managed to cope with his ball control. Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen were expected to contribute more throughout the game, although both goals were a result of their efforts.
The Arsenal team looked completely inspired to win that one and managed to keep their unbeaten run in 18 games. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took the lead among the Premier League’s goal scorers adding two and now has a total of 10 goals and two assists in 13 games. His outstanding flair made Hugo Lloris’ life miserable. He is the first player to score with 10 consecutive shots on target in the Premier League since October 2007 (Benni McCarthy for Blackburn). And the team is right behind Manchester City by goals scored this season (32).
Two half-time subs by Emery found the team in a better position with Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette coming in and having a huge impact on the team’s performance. Three things were clear after that move: 1. Unai Emery’s confidence reflects on the players; 2. Aaron Ramsey needs to stay; 3. Everybody’s glad that Lacazette is back.
But what was the reason for that superb win: The team’s effort or Unai Emery’s tactical genius?
Unai Emery’s fearless approach to his first NLD
The Spaniard showed his tactical genius once again. He had the courage to go out with a three-man defensive line against the team that scored three against Chelsea a week earlier. And it absolutely worked out. Emery saw the potential of Bellerin and Kolasinac being wing-backs against Bournemouth and used that against Spurs too. They both met the expectations and were among the most active players throughout the first half, creating lots of opportunities on the sides.
Kolasinac needed some time to adapt to the team’s style of play after his injury but he did it in the best possible way (partly thanks to Unai Emery). The Spaniard saw the potential that Kolasinac has as a wing back and that came in the right moment so he can change the formation to 3-4-3.
The three at the back were doing pretty well too, and I believe that none of the conceded goals was a result of a particular individual mistake of the defenders (except for Leno’s one when vs. Dier).
Most of the problems in the 3-4-2-1 (3-4-3) formation come from losing the ball in the box and being unable to make a quick defensive transition. In the derby, as it happened against the Cherries, Iwobi didn’t manage to hold on to the ball and a few turnovers occurred as a result of him losing his duels. That’s how Spurs’ created most of their chances – sending early balls to Son who was positioned right on the back of the defenders. That’s when the Gunners had to stay compact and make a quick defensive transition, so they could fill the gaps.
After being 2-1 down on the half-time Emery had to make an offbeat move. He proved his strong decision-making once again as he changed Iwobi and Mkhitaryan for Lacazette and Ramsey early on. Arsenal’s performance received the needed boost and their style of play completely changed. Ramsey’s impact on the game was tremendous as he got involved in both the second and the third goal.
Shkodran Mustafi’s injury was a crucial moment. Unai Emery didn’t go for the expected defensive sub (Maitland-Niles or Lichtsteiner) but decided to bring in Matteo Guendouzi. Kolasinac had to drop back a little and support the defence whilst Bellerin still had the opportunity to help with some runs on the flank. The Frenchman contributed well and managed to provide a support to the fantastically performing midfield. Three minutes after him coming in we saw a nice combination between Ramsey and Lacazette, who gracefully made the defenders with mouths wide open for 3-2. This was his sixth goal in 13 games.
Then Torreira made it 4-2 after an excellent combination with Aubameyang. The connection between the lines is fantastic. Somehow the team managed to perform with a huge intensity but yet with calmness. Unai Emery managed to bring back the joy in the players, hence the fans, and all of them admitted that they haven’t seen the Emirates so hyped in a long time.
Aaron Ramsey needs to ‘sign da ting’
Where do I start? This campaign is one of the best in Ramsey’s Arsenal career. He, Ryan Fraser and Raheem Sterling are leaders among the assist-man in the league with six assists by each of them. But that is not even his biggest contribution thus far, his movement and creativity helped the team in the road to this 18 games without a defeat.
His shooting accuracy is better than last season. He shoots less than in the 2017/18 campaign but now 61.5% of his shots are on target, compared to 42.4% the previous season. He sends more accurate long balls 70.1%/49.2%. He dribbles past his opponents less often (2.27), but the success rate has increased from 78.8% to 82.4%. Ramsey has a better though pass accuracy percentage this term too.
The only thing he could work on and be of a bigger help to his team is trying to win more of his duels. Now he dives in 19.12 duels on average per 90 minutes but wins only 28.7% of them, compared to 38.8 last season.
Lucas Torreira has the full package
Torreira’s performance is so complex that I don’t know if there are more words to describe it without becoming boring. Winning three Man of the match awards in four games talks itself. His control, decision-making and perfectly measured interactions were the missing piece of the puzzle for Arsenal. His actions are full of confidence and that results in 40/44 completed passes (91% accuracy), 4/7 long balls, 11/17 duels won, five interceptions and 10 recoveries against Spurs.
Tottenham’s lack of communication
Usually, there is a strong connection among the Spurs’ players which leads to nice team actions and eventually goals. This was what was lacking against the Arsenal. Although Harry Kane scored a penalty kick he wasn’t contributing enough and ended up with only three shots (one on target). Most of Christian Eriksen’s actions were unsuccessful and Dele Alli couldn’t fit in the pace of the game too. This left Heung-Min Son as the only option in the Tottenham’s frontline and actually, he didn’t disappoint. As I mentioned most of their chances came as a result of his good positioning and the team’s effort on a counter-attack. This was where Arsenal’s three-man defence lapsed on a few occasions and Son managed to shoots on target three times. The defenders were too harsh and were trying to play on the nerves of their opponents but that only resulted in Jan Vertonghen seeing red and Serge Aurier being unable to stop any of the attacks.
Winning the derby was important, but so is winning at Old Trafford against Manchester United on Wednesday. Every game is a part of the journey of Arsenal’s improvement and winning more of these big games will add value to all of their efforts. It is lovely that all these players have such a high individual stats, but it is even better that the team has shown its new shape and that it’s ready to compete on a top level again.
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