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article imageSedulous Spurs fluster Wenger's Arsenal with intense pressing

By Tyrrell Meertins     Nov 8, 2015 in Sports
Tactical brilliance can be illustrated and appreciated in various manners, and Spurs’ draw with Arsenal witnessed both managers impact a cagey showdown at the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger will receive plaudits for rescuing a point, but the home side was thoroughly outplayed for majority of the match. With Arsenal missing several first-team right sided players, Wenger introduced defensive-minded players in attacking roles to launch an uncharacteristic second half revival.
Kieran Gibbs replaced Joel Campbell, which initially — on paper, at least — expressed a ploy to limit overloads down the left flank, but the England international’s dynamism served as a vital component in Arsenal’s fight back. The build up to the goal involved Gibbs getting across Walker to receive Alexis Sanchez’s pass into the box, and though the former failed to record a shot on goal, seconds later he peeled off the Spurs right-back to guide Mesut Ozil’s cross past Hugo Lloris.
Nevertheless, Wenger’s substitutions typified the issues Arsenal encountered for nearly three quarters of the match. Both sides have struggled to break down deep defensive lines this season, yet flourish in transition, but the contrasting approaches out of possession vividly justified Spurs dominance.
"I am very proud of my players in the way we performed and the character we showed because having to play three games in six days is always difficult," said Pochettino.
"We are very happy with the way our philosophy is developing and today was a good example to show the belief in the way we want to play and from that, our supporters can be very proud."
Where Arsenal maintained their shape and comfortably sat off the away side, Spurs pressed higher up the pitch, ultimately preventing the Gunners from building attacks out the back. Apart from hopeless balls into Olivier Giroud in the channels, Wenger’s men succumbed to Spurs’ overload in central areas.
Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele, and Eric Dier rotated their pressing duties against Francois Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, but with additional help from wide players, Christian Eriksen and Eric Lamela, the Arsenal duo struggled severely. The away side’s wingers adopted narrow positions to create 2v1 pressing scenarios, and equally served as attacking options as Spurs bypassed Arsenal’s midfield with quick, yet sharp, intricate passing.
Likewise, Pochettino’s mid-game alteration, moving Dembele alongside Dier, and Alli into an advanced position, enabled Dembele to exert his physical dominance over the diminutive Cazorla, whereas Alli’s trickery constantly bamboozled Arsenal’s defenders en route to goal.
Dembele, in particular, was excellent, as the Belgian successfully completed all five take-ons and nine tackles, whilst recording the most ball recoveries (9) at full-time. On the other hand, Lamela was equally impressive in an unfamiliar direct combative role. The Argentine’s pressing was positive — recording eight tackles over the course of the match — yet he constantly evaded challenges from both Arsenal full-backs.
One first half move in particular epitomized Spurs perfectly: Dembele outmuscled Cazorla in his box, which resulted in Walker instantly firing a pass down the right channel for Alli, who shrugged off Coquelin before powerfully driving towards goal, but the 20-year-old’s pass to Harry Kane was poor. Lamela and Alli received several opportunities in transition to punish the hosts, but their decision making in the final third was partially responsible for Spurs’ downfall.
Oddly, Kane’s opener stemmed from a simplistic direct move. Minutes prior to the goal, Eriksen surged into the left channel to receive a Jan Vertonghen pass, but Debuchy comfortably coped with the Danish international’s threat. Yet, with Arsenal reluctant to press Spurs’ ball-carriers in deeper positions, Rose played a simple pass between Debuchy and Mertesacker for Kane — Laurent Koscielny was guilty for not maintaining an off-side line or tracking the strikers run — and the England international coolly slotted the ball past Petr Cech.
The away side’s spell of dominance continued in the second half with Kane and Eriksen exploiting space behind Monreal and Mertesacker in right half-space, but failing to increase their lead. Arsenal occasionally found joy down the flanks via overloads, but Ozil’s crosses exploited Spurs’ difficulties defending set-pieces — Giroud squandered three legitimate goal-scoring chances from six-yards out — and created Gibbs’ equalizer.
"It was a very intense game with complete commitment from both sides. The team have shown great mental resource, we refused to give up," said Wenger.
"We have shown character today because we were a bit on the ropes and we responded. Every time we have a disappointment I feel we respond well in the game after."
Though Spurs lost control of the match in the final 20 minutes, Pochettino’s approach nullified Arsenal’s attacking quartet, and enabled his side to dominate the midfield zone. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Arsenal were thoroughly outplayed, Wenger’s substitutions typified the issues Arsenal encountered for nearly three quarters of the match, further justifying the decision to introduce Flamini for additional physicality in midfield, and Gibbs, the unlikely goal-scoring saviour.
Perhaps Arsenal’s sidelined players would improve their overall play, but in terms of form, results, and the overall evolution of Pochettino’s side, it seems evident that Spurs have narrowed the gap between the London rivals.
More about Spurs, wenger, Pochettino, BPL, Harry kane
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