Arsenal vs. Tottenham: Stalemate becoming norm for North London derby

In a tactical game with very few chances, the Gunners drew 1-1 with Tottenham on Sunday to drop to fourth place in the Premier League. It was the same scoreline when Spurs visited the Emirates stadium in the past two seasons. Pochettino found again a way to contain Arsenal’s attacking threat by using Dier as a third centerback, next to Wimmer and Vertonghen, and by shielding his defense with the physical Dembele and Wanyama. The Argentine manager also tweaked his high press to target dangerous players like Ozil and Bellerin, who had 6 turnovers each according to whoscored.com.

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Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The weakness in a 3-4-3 formation is the space behind the wingbacks. The Gunners’ two best chances in the first half came from runs in behind Walker and Rose. Ozil led a counterattack in the 32nd minute by finding Sanchez on the edge of the Tottenham box. Sanchez played Iwobi in but the Nigeria international could only muster a tame effort straight at Lloris. My guess is that Iwobi wanted to curl the ball inside the far post. In Iwobi’s position, the more natural option would have been to hit the ball with his left foot. Iwobi is only 20 years old and finishing is obviously the key area he needs to improve. But that’s the price you pay for developing youngsters at the top level. Arsenal put Spurs in trouble with another fast break in the 39th. Xhaka fed Walcott, who rattled the post with a 20-yard piledriver.

Sanchez and Ozil have tortured quite a few teams this season with their vertical movement, Sanchez dropping back to deliver the final ball and Ozil making runs in behind to score. But Pochettino’s team was so well drilled that Sanchez, Ozil and Walcott got caught offside 7 times. The tightness of Tottenham’s defense explains why the Gunners’ final ball was often poor and their shooting accuracy as low as 18% compared to 30% for Spurs. The only time Sanchez and Ozil were able to combine in the final third was in the 31st, when Sanchez made a low cross for Ozil, whose first-time effort sailed wide.

Under-performing Iwobi and Walcott

The difficulty of cracking the Tottenham defense led Sanchez and Ozil to focus on creating chances. Ozil finished the game with 5 key passes and Sanchez with 4. Iwobi, Xhaka and Oxlade-Chamberlain also had 1 key pass each. Ozil has played many games as a nine and half this season. But circumstances on Sunday forced him to play in a more traditional No. 10 role. Wimmer, under Koscielny’s pressure, headed Ozil’s free kick into his own net in the 42nd to give Arsenal the lead. Ozil led the team with 50 passes, followed by Monreal with 47 and Xhaka with 44. When the Gunners face weaker sides, the two central midfielders usually make more passes than Ozil, who plays in a more advanced position.

Since Ozil and Sanchez were dealing with the playmaking duties, it meant that Iwobi and Walcott had to take care of the finishing. Unfortunately, Iwobi and Walcott under-performed in the final third. Iwobi wasted a counterattack in the 19th by dallying on the ball and overhitting his cross for Sanchez. He then deprived Bellerin of a passing option in the 29th by not making a run toward the far post. Iwobi still managed to test Lloris in the 61st with a teasing cross that eluded the Tottenham defense. Walcott was doubtful before the game because of a hamstring strain. His defensive partnership with Bellerin on the right flank proved weak as Rose was able to make 4 key passes. Walcott’s limited passing skills were also a liability with a passing accuracy of 50% compared to 77.8% for Iwobi.

Monreal’s great game

We wouldn’t be talking about Arsenal’s struggles in the final third if they had succeeded in protecting their lead. It lasted just nine minutes. What really hurt the Gunners was their sluggish start in the second half. Dembele too easily ran past Coquelin before Koscielny tripped him inside the area in the 50th. Kane converted the subsequent penalty to level the score.

Wenger made all the right moves to try and win the match, sending on Ramsey for Coquelin in the 64th and replacing Iwobi and Walcott with Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 70th. Sanchez moved back to the left flank and made a cross for Giroud that Vertonghen headed away in the 86th. In the last minute of regulation time, Giroud got ahead of Vertonghen to meet a cross from Sanchez but headed the ball straight at Lloris. Giroud should have done better with a free header from nine yards but at least his understanding with Sanchez is improving. The Ox never managed to get into the game while Ramsey still lacked a bit of match fitness, chesting down a clearance in the 72nd to fire over the bar.

Defensively, our fullbacks performed better than our centerbacks. Monreal had a great game, making 7 interceptions and winning 4 of 7 tackles, the most for any player according to Squawka. The Spaniard especially made a crucial block to deny Kane in the 60th. Koscielny was the main culprit for giving away a penalty with a clumsy challenge on Dembele in the 50th but a quick look at the stats shows that he performed a bit better than Mustafi, winning 3 of 6 tackles, making 4 interceptions and reaching a passing accuracy of 73% compared to 1 of 3 tackles, 8 interceptions and a passing accuracy of 60% for the Germany international.

Similarities with the Ludogorets game

Mustafi looked shaky in the first half. Son too easily rolled away from Mustafi in the fifth minute to feed Kane, who couldn’t connect with the cross. Then Mustafi missed his clearance in the 18th, forcing Cech to beat Kane to the ball. His reading of the game was poor in the 21st when Eriksen made a cross for Kane, who missed the target despite a free header. Since Kane was making a run in behind Koscielny, it was Mustafi’s responsibility to mark the Tottenham striker. It was a play similar to Ludogorets’ second goal last Tuesday.

Koscielny played with confidence in the first half, intercepting a long ball for Son in the 25th. However, his performance after the break was a different story. Koscielny fouled Son in the 47th and was even nutmegged by the South Korea international in the 49th, forcing Bellerin to clear the danger with a sliding tackle inside the area. Wenger claimed Koscielny’s foul on Dembele was a soft penalty, but the golden rule is that you must get the ball when you make a challenge inside the area. And Koscielny didn’t.

Spurs could have scored the winner in the 84th when Eriksen’s free kick eluded the Arsenal defense to bounce off the far post. Dier outjumped Bellerin at the near post but couldn’t make contact with the ball. Eriksen’s delivery was a tricky one but the defenders must find a way to better attack the ball. It was a play that echoed Ludogorets’ opening goal.

Xhaka’s impressive game

I guess the main positive from Sunday’s game was Xhaka’s impressive performance. He outshone Coquelin in midfield, making 4 interceptions and winning 4 of 7 tackles, compared to 3 interceptions and 1 of 3 tackles for the Frenchman. Xhaka’s only positional mistake came in the 21st when Eriksen crossed the ball for Kane. The Switzerland international should have pressed Eriksen on that play instead of sitting inside the Arsenal area. Coquelin was obviously guilty for not stopping Dembele’s run in the 50th. He also poorly tracked Eriksen in the 55th when Mustafi headed away a cross from Kane. Eriksen pounced on the second ball to fire a half-volley that Cech turned around the post.

A draw with Tottenham is not a bad result in itself. The Gunners are still three points above their North London rivals in the standings. The problem is the context. That was arguably the best time of the year to play Spurs, who were missing Alderweireld and Alli through injury while Kane was barely fit. A victory would have also made up for the two points dropped against Middlesbrough.

The manager must hope that Cazorla recovers from his Achilles injury after the international break because the Spaniard definitely adds more creativity in midfield than Elneny, Xhaka or Coquelin. The Gunners will face their most hectic period of the season with nine games from Nov. 19 to Dec. 18. Sanchez and Giroud are the players that Arsenal can’t afford to lose to injury because their backups, Perez and Welbeck, won’t return before January.

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