Tottenham punish Arsenal mistakes as 3-4-3 hampers Gunners' attack
Arsenal produced another meek display on the road to help Tottenham seal a 2-0 win that kept the gap to Premier League leaders Chelsea at four points.
In the last North London derby to be held at White Hart Lane, before Spurs move to their new stadium, Arsene Wenger continued with his 3-4-3 system and actually managed to frustrate the home side for longer spells in the first half. Spurs were unable to find space between the lines against a compact team structure, and their two big chances came only when Arsenal switched off.
Yet the 3-4-3 also hampered Arsenal going forward, their sense of cohesion and fluency all but absent against the best defence in the division.
Still, Arsenal did continue to look sound in the second half, until two lapses of concentration let Dele Alli and Harry Kane score. That triggered a bombardment in which Spurs threatened from several set pieces. The Gunners failed to respond, leaving Spurs to savour a ninth straight league win.
Wenger's 3-4-3 hinders Spurs...
Few will feel Arsenal deserved much credit for this performance, but one thing that did work decently at the start was their defensive structure.
Throughout the opening, Arsenal varied between pressing high and staying compact inside their own half. When pushing up, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez helped Olivier Giroud stress the centre-backs, while wing-backs Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (right) and Kieran Gibbs (left) closed down full-backs Kieran Tripper (right) and Ben Davies (left). The pressure worked well and Spurs, who played 4-2-3-1, often struggled to play their way out.
With the wing-backs pushing up, Arsenal's outside centre-backs would theoretically have to shuffle out wide to stop the wingers. But with Christian Eriksen drifting inside from the right, this only happened on the left, where Davies and Son Heung-Min ran at Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gabriel Paulista. Particularly Davies was allowed space, and fired in seven crosses in the first half alone, though Arsenal generally coped well.
Since Arsenal also managed to squeeze the space between midfield and defence, Spurs were limited to spells of sterile possession. On one occasion, they kept circulating the ball looking for a gap, until Son tried to find Alli between the lines, only for Aaron Ramsey to intercept. Alli, the man supposed to operate in this zone, received just eight passes in the first half.
Yet for all that, Spurs did create two huge chances and should have gone ahead. Kane broke clear and fired a deflected shot that Alli steered wide with the goal gaping, while Son led a counter-attack, dribbled past Oxlade-Chamberlain and unleashed another deflected effort that saw Eriksen volley over. Arsenal should never have been caught out like that and it would not be the last time a lapse handed Spurs a big chance.
...but also ruins Arsenal cohesion
The downside of the 3-4-3 was that Arsenal offered little going forward. The players still seem unaccustomed to the change in shape and one suspects Wenger's priority on the training ground has been to drill in a sound defensive shape. Here it took them 26 minutes to have a shot of any kind, Sanchez's effort being deflecting for a corner.
It did not help that Petr Cech kicked long to evade Spurs' high pressure. In midfield, Spurs also broke up play efficiently, with Victor Wanyama winning a series of duels, and Giroud was largely isolated. Only in the final seven minutes of the first half did Arsenal produce some half-chances. At the break, their pass completion stood at 71.6 percent - well below their usual average of 83.5.
Spurs punish defensive lapses
In any case, Arsenal continued to frustrate Spurs at the start of the second half. Pochettino had moved Son right, Alli left and Eriksen into the centre -- but Arsenal soon produced their first good chance when Giroud volleyed over from a corner. Spurs then had another spell of fruitless possession, which ended with a ball over the top for Son who was offside.
When Arsenal then conceded, it was not so much a matter of tactics as a lack of aggression. A throw-in went to Kane, before Eriksen fired at Cech and Alli slid home the rebound. A minute later, Gabriel felled Kane, conceding a penalty that Kane buried. Wenger later appeared to suggest the 3-4-3 was not at fault. "On the first goal, it looked like we were not out-numbered," he said. "We had six against two or three. It was soft defending."
That softness had also been evident earlier, above all at set pieces. On six minutes, Toby Alderweireld had headed a corner over; three minutes into the second half, Jan Vertonghen had tested Cech from another corner; two minutes after that, yet another corner had enabled Son to fire into the side netting. In all cases, the defending had been slack.
None of this had been rectified. Shortly after the second goal, another corner found Vertonghen, whose curled effort drew a fine Cech save. Soon, another near-post corner caught Arsenal out, Kane steering it into the side netting. By 70 minutes Spurs had finished a bombardment that had included 10 shots in 25 minutes, and Arsenal had Cech to thank for not conceding more. Still, even after that, Alderweireld drew another top Cech save from yet another corner. That was the sixth attempt that Arsenal allowed Spurs from set pieces.
Arsenal fail to respond
At 2-0 down and with 32 minutes to go, Arsenal responded poorly. If anything it was Spurs who pushed for a third, before eventually retreating to defend their lead.
Wenger did put Danny Welbeck on the right wing, taking off Granit Xhaka and moving Oxlade-Chamberlain into the centre. Later changes included Hector Bellerin for Gabriel and Theo Walcott for Giroud, as Ozil dropped deeper. The back four also returned.
But Arsenal lacked both determination and ideas, and mustered only four efforts in those 32 minutes. One was blocked, the other three went straight at Hugo Lloris. Ozil did get on the ball more, but his more ambitious forward passes failed. With a response like that, Arsenal were always likely to suffer a fifth defeat in six Premier League away games.
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