Tactics Talk: Adebayor’s dismissal leads to an easy afternoon for Arsenal
Arsenal welcomed Tottenham to the Emirates on Saturday in a match renowned for being one of modern football’s most epic derby matches.
Averaging four goals every game, the north London rivalry comprises two contrasting managers at two of England’s most ambitious clubs. Andre Villas-Boas will have approached the game ready to make a statement of intent as he builds his Tottenham side, but at his home ground, with his reputation and squad under pressure, Arsene Wenger was ready to remind everyone that there’s life in the old dog yet.
The home side lined up similarly to the team which drew with Fulham 3-3 at home last weekend. Out went Vito Mannone in goal with Wojciech Szczesny stepping in to the role he occupied before injury earlier in the season. Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen started their third game in a row together and Jack Wilshere returned from suspension to join Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla ahead of them in midfield. Advanced on the flanks were Theo Walcott on the right and Lukasz Podolski to the right leaving Olivier Giroud to continue his recent goalscoring form up top.
Surprisingly, Villas-Boas was considerably adventurous in his initial system. Apart from Hugo Lloris reducing Brad Friedel to a place on the bench and Kyle Naughton replacing the injured Steven Caulker – forcing Jan Vertonghen to shuffle in one and partner William Gallas – Tottenham retained a straight back four with Kyle Walker at right back. Sandro and Tom Huddlestone started their fifth straight league game together in the centre of midfield with Gareth Bale on the left hand side and Aaron Lennon offering pace and direction on the right. The surprise came in Vilas-Boas’ decision to deploy Jermain Defoe and Emanuel Adebayor as a front two for the first time in the league this season.
The Adebayor effect
There were key tactical battles in the final third for Tottenham. The manager realised that Koscielny is far from convincing in the air so Adebayor could have joy when playing on top of the defender. He certainly realised, like everyone else, that Mertesacker can’t run and the pace of Defoe could cause problems. It was the latter tactic which paid off for Tottenham as sharp movement to and from the ball gave Defoe space behind Mertesacker to shoot at Szczesny whose save was tapped in by the alert Adebayor.
Lennon, Defoe, Bale and Adebayor all had attempts at goal while the home team toiled to make any impression on a solid Tottenham defence – that was until the growing influence of Adebayor reached a turning point. Sliding to recover a stray ball, the tall striker caught Cazorla dangerously and paid the price as Howard Webb sent him off.
For Spurs, Defoe remained as the lone frontman, but without the marauding runs of Sigurdsson/Dempsey or Bale and Lennon – who were now pushed back in a more reserved 4-4-1 shape.
Arsenal’s tempo understandably increased and Tottenham’s defensive line deepened. This immediately led to two more attempts at goal, one of which resulted in their quick-fire equaliser on 24 minutes. Superb work on the flank by Walcott ended with a teasing cross met by the head of Mertesacker who scored past Lloris to level.
The second came soon after. The advanced Arteta – afforded more space due to Adebayor’s dismissal – had a short one-two with Wilshere cut out, but the ricochet found Podolski who, courtesy of a deflection, shot past Lloris. Fast forward four minutes and it was 3-1 after some calamitous Spurs play.
Tom Huddlestone had his lazy pass to Lennon cut out by Vermaelen who won a foul from the winger. The resultant free-kick, although cleared, fell to Cazorla and the little magician beat two players before cutting a ball across the box to Giroud who applied a clinical finish.
Second Half – Villas-Boas does the right things, but it isn’t enough.
What can you do or say to a team who trail by two at half-time, with a man down and are playing against arguably the best passers in the league? Well, not a lot really, but Villas-Boas made the right moves at half-time to try and get his team back in the game.
Off came Naughton for Dempsey and Walker for Dawson, giving Spurs three central defenders and an extra midfield man to get close to the lonely Jermain Defoe. A 3-4-1 with Spurs width and pace could trouble Arsenal.
In theory that could have been the case, but Arsenal simply didn’t give Spurs the ball to do any damage. It was the home club who then sealed the match and the points. One long ball from Szczesny was nodded on by Giroud and Walcott found Podolski bursting through on the left. By this time, Cazorla had run off Sandro and Podolski put it on a plate for the Spaniard to make it 4-1.
Bale gave Spurs hope when he made it 4-2 on 70 minutes, but it was all false as the Gunners passed their way to a comprehensive win. They made 214 passes, almost three times as much as the 80 Spurs made, had five more shots on goal, which included Walcott’s killer fifth goal, and in Cazorla and Arteta had two players who made more than three times as many passes as a combination than any other two players in the Spurs squad.
Conclusion – Adebayor dismissal gives Arsenal an easy afternoon
There’s no question that Adebayor’s sending off cost Spurs any chance of winning the game. Arsenal probe and pass their way around and through any team they play at home and a ten-man Tottenham side would have needed a miraculous performance to stop them running out as winners.
Villas-Boas must be applauded for having the bravery to play two up-front in such a big game, but he noticed the weaknesses of the Arsenal defence and intended to hit them at the heart. His attempt to change things to give Defoe more support in attack was, although ultimately unsuccessful, admirable.
Wenger, although understanding the effect the red card had on the game, found more praise for the performance of his men: “We played with belief, pace, creativity and it’s important to rebuild the belief of the team and that [the result] will help.”
How far that belief will take them though, remains to be seen.Tagged in: Arsenal, football, Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur
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