The top match of the weekend featured the North London derby with Tottenham Hotspur visiting Arsenal. The rivalry match did not disappoint- the game was an end-to-end battle with Arsenal coming back from a 2-0 deficit to salvage a point 2-2. The match also saw a fantastic yet slightly unexpected tactical battle.
This tactical analysis will provide an in-depth analysis of the tactical strategy employed in the 2-2 derby draw. Tottenham’s manager Mauricio Pochettino sent his squad out to be disciplined defensively and attack through the counter. Unai Emery chose the opposite tactic and tasked his Arsenal squad with getting numbers forward into the attack and press the ball high up the field.
Arsenal employed a 4-3-3 alignment. Bernd Leno was in goal behind a back four of Sead Kolašinac, David Luiz, Sokratis, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The midfield was anchored by Granit Xhaka, with Mattéo Guendouzi on his left and Lucas Torreira on his right. The front line was the trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Nicolas Pépé.
Tottenham Hotspur countered with a disciplined 4-4-2 setup. Hugo Lloris in goal with a back four of Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and makeshift right-back Davinson Sánchez. Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko sat in front of the backline with Érik Lamela on the right and Christian Eriksen on the left. Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son were up top.
Tottenham’s Tactical Setup
One of the big tactical questions for Tottenham entering the match was would Spurs press Arsenal or not. From the outset of the match, the answer was a resounding “sit and counter”. Tottenham had clear intention to play out of a disciplined 4-4-2 and hit Arsenal in transition. Below we see Tottenham in two blocks of four.
Arsenal’s Tactical Setup
Arsenal countered with a tactical setup to attack both offensively and defensively. They pushed the midfield three up the field while also tasking the full-backs to move into the attacking third. The image below shows Tottenham with the ball highlighted in red with the Arsenal forward and midfield line pushed high up the field.
Arsenal Focus on Kane During Tottenham Buildup
Tottenham’s Harry Kane is at the top of most scouting reports, and this match was no different. Emery tasked his central defenders to mirror Kane all over the field. This tactical instruction backfired through the combination of Arsenal committing players forward and Tottenham staying disciplined to attack through the counter.
Here we see Tottenham playing out of the back with Arsenal committing players high. Tottenham’s Alderweireld is on the ball inside his own box as highlighted in red. Kane has dropped into midfield also highlighted in red. The Arsenal defence is high up the field and the two central defenders are highlighted in black. Sokratis has stepped up into midfield shadowing Kane. Luiz is left alone in the back matched with Son. Lamela and Eriksen are pushed high.
The ball is dropped back to Lloris who bypasses the Arsenal pressure with a long ball to Kane.
The long pass towards Kane draws both Xhaka and Sokratis as highlighted in the box below.
Kane wins the 2 vs 1 aerial duel.
The win by Kane coupled with Sokratis stepping hard to Kane leaves Arsenal in a bad spot. A 3 vs 3 counter is the result.
Son beats Luiz on the turn. Full-backs Kolašinac and Maitland-Niles are left as the last line of defence, and Lamela and Eriksen prove to be willing runners. The play ends with Eriksen tapping in a rebound from Lamela’s shot.
The entire goal sequence was a result of Arsenal committing players high to press and keying on Kane with the central defender Sokratis.
Arsenal Focus on Kane During Arsenal Attack
Arsenal consistently flooded the attacking third with numbers. Most Arsenal attacks featured seven, eight, and occasionally nine players in the attacking third. This strategy made them dangerous around the Tottenham box but also vulnerable to the counter-attack.
Here we see Maitland-Niles on the ball wide in a typical Arsenal attack. He plays a ball into the box near the penalty spot.
The Maitland-Niles pass creates a chaotic scramble in the box.
The Arsenal attacking sequence appears innocuous. Once Tottenham digs out the ball, a more dangerous picture appears. The next image shows Winks getting the ball out from the Arsenal forwards. The Arsenal midfield trio are within 10 metres of the box and are flat. Finally, we see the Arsenal focus on Kane as Sokratis has ventured all the way into the attacking third to hug Harry Kane.
The previous image shows nine Arsenal players within 30 metres of the goal- this is from an open play situation and not a set piece!
Winks squares the ball for Eriksen. In the highlighted box, Sokratis is still tight on Kane and you can see Kane looking upfield for the wide-open Son. Eriksen plays the simple ball up the line and Tottenham are gone.
As seen below, Son is clear in space. Kane and Sokratis are in a foot race. Luiz, highlighted in red, is clear in his body language that he is not happy with the situation he has been placed in.
The result of the counter is a dangerous shot from Son saved via a stretching dive from Leno.
No Halftime Tactical Change for Arsenal
Coming out for the second half, Arsenal showed zero tactical alteration in how they attacked and defended. They continued to chase the game with numbers high and commit numbers into the attack.
Emery also kept the responsibility of hounding Kane to the central defenders. In the 54th minute, a committed Arsenal attack shows a good picture of the Kane focus continuing.
The ball is passed to Lacazette with the full-back Kolašinac high up the field and the entire Arsenal midfield in the attacking third. The midfield trio are highlighted in red.
The ball is eventually won by a Tottenham and played out to Harry Kane along the sideline. Arsenal central defender, Luiz, is high up the field in defence.
A fantastic tactical battle between a disciplined sit-and-counter strategy of Tottenham and the possession dominating and numerical superiority strategy of Arsenal. The tactical battle resulted in a wide open back-and-forth match.
Statistically, Tottenham came away with an xG advantage of 2.57 to 1.95. The xG advantage was despite having only 13 shots to 26 shots for Arsenal. Tottenham was efficient in converting their 13 shots into 9 shots on target. Only a Kane shot off the woodwork, a blocked Danny Rose shot, and two late Sissoko chances failed to hit the target. Meanwhile, Arsenal only produced eight shots on target in 26 chances. Lacazette and Pépé were the most wasteful with chances combining for nine shots off-target.
The Arsenal focus on Kane held the striker to only 33 touches. He only completed 50% of his passes and they held him to only 2 shots. His lone goal was a penalty. While holding Kane in check, Arsenal put immense pressure on themselves in transition as Son, Lamela, and Eriksen were allowed to run free.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the August issue for just ₤4.99 here.