The North London Derby between last season’s second and third-placed sides saw Mauricio Pochettino spring a surprise with Tottenham’s formation.
Spurs lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation as oppose to their usual 4-2-3-1. Eric Dier dropped back to the right-side of defence alongside Kevin Wimmer and Jan Vertonghen.
Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were the wing-backs with Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele in the middle. Christian Eriksen supported Son Heung-Min and the returning Harry Kane – who had been out with an ankle injury since mid-September.
For Arsenal, Arsene Wenger made three changes from last week’s win at Sunderland with Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka and Theo Walcott replacing Kieran Gibbs, Mohamed Elneny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alexis Sanchez was again leading the line for the Gunners despite Olivier Giroud’s super-sub performance at the Stadium of Light.
Impact of Spurs’ formation
Tottenham started better and looked more at home than Arsenal. Comfortable in possession and stifling their opponents’ opportunities, Pochettino’s move to revert to a back three appeared to unsettle their opponents.
Much of that was down to the wing-backs forcing Wenger’s wingers back to a midfield four. As a result, Sanchez was often crowded out while Mesut Ozil struggled to link midfield with attack during the early exchanges.
Alex Iwobi had Arsenal’s first real clear opening following a counter-attack. With Walcott tracking back to provide defensive support, Hector Bellerin raced forwards to be the outlet on the right as the ball found its way to Iwobi on the opposite flank. Unfortunately for the Gunners, the Nigerian’s tame side-footed effort did little to trouble Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.
The counter isn’t a common approach for Arsenal and Wenger but exposing Spurs on the break and getting behind their wing-backs appeared to be the best way as the three centre-backs were generally occupied by both Ozil and Sanchez’s movement.
There was certainly a drive by Arsenal to get the ball forwards quickly with the hosts completing 130 passes in the final third compared to Spurs’ 75. That’s despite the away side completing nearly 100 passes more in total and having the majority of possession. The additional centre back allowed Tottenham to retain possession without much pressure as Arsenal’s wingers were preoccupied with both Rose and Walker.
Iwobi’s chance, 15-minutes before half-time, triggered a swing in momentum that saw Arsenal enjoy their best period of the match.
Ozil and Dembele
German playmaker, Ozil grew into the game, benefitting from a possession play higher up the field which saw him finish top for attacking third passes. Subsequently, he also finished top for chances created.
It was Ozil’s 42nd minute free kick that led to Arsenal’s goal as Kevin Wimmer headed the cross into his own net. The teasing ball made life particularly difficult for the Austrian centre-back who may have had a case for claiming distraction from one or two Arsenal players who were offside.
That goal meant five of the six conceded by Spurs in the league this season have been from set-plays. That’s one more than Liverpool who have come under much scrutiny for their defending on crosses from dead ball situations.
Tottenham’s top performer, meanwhile, turned out to be the man of the match. Dembele played a pivotal role in ensuring Kane wasn’t left isolated by allowing the wing-backs and attacking players to get forwards. The Belgian also won the penalty from which Kane converted to level the scores.
Dembele’s passing rate of 89.4% (42/47) was better than any other starting player, while he succeeded with all six attempted take ons. The former Fulham man was his side’s best player for ball recoveries with eight and he won all of his attempted tackles. His importance to Tottenham and the way Pochettino wants to play is increasing with each and every game. The dribbling ability and dynamism Dembele provides is found wanting when Spurs’ central midfield is occupied by both Wanyama and Dier.
Tottenham, despite their controlling start, were probably grateful for half-time and they took advantage of the opportunity to readdress any tactical issues. More so than the first period, they began brightly and in addition to the goal – five-minutes in – they created a couple of other chances that nearly saw them take the lead.
Arsenal failed to readjust until Wenger made the first substitution of the match after 65-minutes. Aaron Ramsey replaced Francis Coquelin in an attacking move that eased some of the pressure on the defence.
Within six-minutes of the first sub, Wenger had replaced both wingers. Giroud came in for Iwobi to provide more of a focal point which Sanchez struggled to deliver during a frustrating afternoon. It seemed to prompt a more direct approach that led to the French forward finishing second for attacking aerial duels (three from five).
The final substitute – all made prior to Spurs’ first – saw Walcott replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain after a quiet second period that yielded just one foul suffered and zero successful passes from five attempts.
Pochettino unsurprisingly cut Kane’s return short by a little under 20-minutes as last season’s top scorer began to tire. The Argentinian manager was forced to replace Walker with Kieran Trippier due to injury while swapping Son for Harry Winks in the 89th minute was as much to do with time wasting as it was tactical.
There weren’t many clear-cut opportunities for either side but both did strike the woodwork.
According to the stats, Arsenal had five more attempts at goal than their rivals (15 to 10). However, on closer inspection, that difference of five matched the number of shots from outside the area, none of which hit the target. Although, Walcott was extremely close with his rasping drive which cannoned back off the post moments before the opener.
Tottenham’s Eriksen found the same post, albeit at a much slower pace, when his in swinging free kick evaded all of the runners as the match entered the last five minutes of normal time.
Pochettino’s new formation destabilised his opponents and they looked the more likely winners once Kane equalised from the spot.
Arsenal were disappointing, not least Sanchez, while Wenger’s substitutions managed to interrupt Tottenham’s second-half flow. But the nervousness to which Wenger touched upon during his post-match interview was evident in their haste to attack having clocked up seven offsides in the first half.
Overall, it was a draw that satisfies both teams for different reasons. Arsenal avoid a disappointing defeat to their biggest rivals before a two-week international break while Tottenham’s unbeaten start to the season continues. But Pochettino knows there’s plenty of room for improvement having drawn more than they’ve won.
EPL Results (Gameweek 11):
Bournemouth 1-2 Sunderland
Burnley 3-2 Crystal Palace
Man City 1-1 Middlesbrough
West Ham 1-1 Stoke
Chelsea 5-0 Everton
Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham
Liverpool 6-1 Watford
Hull 2-1 Southampton
Swansea 1-3 Man Utd
Leicester 1-2 West Brom