Yesterday was the day when a fabulous derby took place between Arsenal and Tottenham. Arsenal came out victorious with a 4-2 margin, but it simply was a fabulous match. First 20-25 minutes belonged to Arsenal when they simply were dominant and took the lead via an Aubameyang penalty. This made Spurs woke up from the slumber and they dominated rest of the half when they took a 2-1 lead via Dier and Kane. Emery made quick tactical changes and substitutions which immediately paid dividends when Arsenal leveled via Aubameyang again in 56th minute. Arsenal were in control since then and injury to Mustafi made Emery change tactics again. Pochettino responded with his own tactical change which simply backfired and Arsenal quickly scored two more goals and finished the match. Both Emery and Pochettino are good tacticians and have their own philosophies, it was a great tactical chess game between the two young managers, where ultimately Emery came out on top. Let’s take a glimpse on the tactics.
Arsenal started their formation of last match again with a small twist. Instead of the 3-4-2-1, he slightly changed things and fielded a 3-4-3 with his two forwards wider (in 3-4-2-1,the two forwards behind the no 9 are a lot closer, almost as two no 10’s combining with the 9).His ploy was clear, if Spurs fielded a 3-4-1-2/3-4-2-1,he wanted his three forwards pitted against spurs back three with his wingbacks providing the overlap. If Spurs fielded a flattish 4-3-1-2 like the Chelsea game, he wanted his back three to cope with Spurs front three high press. He completely abandoned his previous ploy where the three forwards exploit the half spaces and only the wingbacks shuttle up and down to provide the width. Emery targeted attacking through the flanks using the width and wanted his two wide forwards to occupy the spurs defenders so that aubameyang and other runners coming in from midfield could attack and pounce at centre. Hence he fielded a 3-4-3 with two wide forwards instead of a 3-4-2-1. Some eyebrows were raised with the absence of Oezil and it was actually announced that Oezil is not completely fit. But truth to be told, Oezil has no functional role in Emery’s high pressing 3-4-3/3-4-2-1.If Emery fields a 4-2-3-1,only there Oezil will find a significant role. In rest of the cases, Oezil will find it difficult to fit in the new scheme of things .
Pochettino anticipated that Arsenal will field a back three and a midfield four and instead of his last match’s flattish 4-3-1-2,he went with a proper narrow 4-4-2 diamond. The diamond would ensure numerical superiority in midfield against arsenal’s flat four (including the two wingbacks) midfield and the front three of kane, son and alli would roam and high press again to disrupt arsenal defence and create mistakes mirroring their roles against Chelsea. Pochettino left the attack through wings entirely on his full backs, in fact only Aurier was moving up high to attack and Davies was comparatively more reserved and concentrated more on defending than attacking. Pochettino was ready to sacrifice width and concentrate and channel his attack more through the half spaces. Hence, though both the sides were following the basic principle of building up from back and employing high press, their objectives were entirely different.
Right from the kickoff it was evident that, both the sides will deploy high press, but whilst Spurs concentrated mainly through the centre and half spaces, Arsenal targeted mainly the flanks and the width.In the picture below, look how narrow the Spurs front three are while pressing. Also look how narrow the spurs are with almost no width in their set up. On the other hand, look at the width of Arsenal and Kolasinac almost hugging the touchline. Also notice how the Arsenal front three are more spread in a three men forward line with two wide forwards i.e. a 3-4-3 instead of a 3-4-1-2.In contrast notice how closely knit the Spurs front three are since they are deploying a 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 diamond which is quite different forward line than a 4-3-3.
The entire tactical battle can be divided into zones as detailed in the picture below. The Spurs back two and Dier were anticipating a 3-4-2-1 and they were a bit narrow to deal with it. Instead Arsenal had three wide men and started attacking via flanks where their wide forwards doubled up with their wingbacks to nullify Spurs press on the wide areas. Hence Arsenal began on front foot and even took the lead via an Aubameyang penalty. It was clear that the wide areas of Spurs were vulnerable. Eriksen had a tremendous game last match, here he was surrounded and was being hurried constantly by Torreira. At the other end, Arsenal back three were dealing with Spurs’ front three High press. The zonal battles are marked in the picture.
Spurs gradually woke up from the slumber and made their own adjustments. Their two CBs shifted wide to safeguard the flanks and their fullbacks (especially Davies) also shifted back. Eriksen started to wriggle out and combining with Alli started finding outlets. Spurs front three got into rhythm and started poking via their high press and started finding openings via half spaces fed by Eriksen or Sissoko. Also Spurs had numerical superiority in midfield due to their diamond and hence Torreira was unable to block Eriksen. Spurs was creating enough problems and ultimately took the lead, though many would argue that the penalty won by Son was extremely soft. But Spurs was the better team after they adjusted to the initial Arsenal onslaught.
Seeing that his ploy to attack via flanks have met a dead end and Spurs was continuously finding overload in midfield owing to the midfield diamond, Emery ditched his earlier plan and introduced Lacazzate and Ramsey and changed his 3-4-3 to a 3-1-4-2. He left attacking via flanks to his wing backs and relied on the combination play between lacazzate and aubameyang. Also he matched the numbers in midfield thus once again stifling Eriksen’s outlets. He introduced a ball carrier in Ramsey to aid Laca and Auba, with Auba pressing on right and Laca in centre. Torreira was blocking Erikson and Sissoko and Arsenal wingbacks started pushing up again. Bellerin latched on to Ramsey and he teed to Aubameyang who had a fantastic finish to bring Arsenal level.
Then with Mustafi going out and Guendouzi coming in, Emery shifted to a 4-3-1-2 thus keeping his midfield numbers same to prevent his midfield getting bypassed. Pochettino now had to make switches and he shifted to a 3-4-1-2 targeting the flanks when he dropped Dier deep to form a three men defence. The situation had reversed now with Arsenal targeting the half spaces and Spurs targeting the flanks and the midfield was in stalemate before the Spurs switch . This switch backfired on Poche and Spurs, simply because Dier lacks the abilities to play as a CB, also moving Dier from midfield removed his hustling which gave invitation to Xhaka and Torreira to run rampant as ball carriers through Spurs Midfield. Arsenal scored two more goals simply because the advantages were now lopsided in their favour they were dominating the midfield after Spurs ditched their diamond midfield . Ramsey won the ball from Foyth and passed to Laca who scored via a shot which brushed off Dier. Both Arsenal full backs were joining up in attack and the Spurs’ fullbacks were stranded high since they were devoid of supply due to their midfield being overrun by now. Bellerin was in open space and passed to Auba who teed by Torreira and Arsenal scored the fourth goal of the night. Vertonghen was red carded soon after which was the final nail on coffin for Arsenal. This ended a fantastic derby which Arsenal won due to their tactical flexibility and proactive measures. This is the Arsenal of Unai Emery who is moulding this side into his image i.e. brave, tactically flexible and finishing off games.