Sunday, February 26, 2012
Narrow against Wide - Arsenal vs. Spurs Preview
It's fair to say we've had a rotten time of it recently against Tottenham.
We had it so good for so long against them under Wenger, it's come as a shock that our form against our rivals has fallen apart so quickly. From a beautiful, seemingly neverending run of games without defeat, we've now won only once in our last seven league games against Spurs.
Going through the two probable teamsheets for tomorrow's game, one thing prominently stands out: Tottenham's midfield is much stronger than ours. If Spurs go with Bale-Modric-Parker-Lennon; Van der Vaart, that is a stronger line-up than Song-Arteta; Gervinho-Ramsey-Walcott/AOC. Really, on current form, the only Arsenal player who might vie for a place in Spurs' midfield is Arteta, and possibly Oxlade-Chamberlain, although given Wenger's bizarre team selections of late, who knows if our in-form youngster will even start tomorrow.
I also feel that Tottenham's 4-4-1-1 is a better formation than our 4-2-3-1. Tottenham's defenders means that Bale and Lennon have a licence to maraud forward, but that they leave their full-backs less exposed than Walcott/Gervinho/AOC who have much further to get back when they are forced to defend (when they bother).
Indeed, our current formation seems particularly bizarre when you consider how much pressure it puts on our full-backs, a position where we have struggled with injuries this season. It's no surprise that we've conceded so many goals when you consider that we have players playing out of position in what are possibly the key areas of a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation. Djourou, in particular, looked all at sea when asked to play at right-back, because he simply couldn't work out where he was meant to be standing at any given moment. It's a formation which only really works when the likes of Sagna and Santos are available, and, even then, it asks them to put in massive performances on a game-by-game basis.
Spurs cover space more effectively with their formation, and they have better players in key areas. It's a real problem for Arsenal at the moment that our best player is our lone striker. It's instructive when you look at the average standing position of our players during games that van Persie is often level with our midfield. He is desperate to become more involved in our games when we struggle, but by dropping so deep, he leaves us toothless up-front.
And the supposed beneficiaries of our formation - our attacking three behind van Persie - have not put in enough good performances this year to justify the way we play. Gervinho was terrible in the game at White Hart Lane in October, and Walcott was not much better. Both will need to be wary of their defensive responsibilities in the game tomorrow, and realise that they must be effective when they are in possession. We cannot have Theo and Gervinho running down blind alleys or crossing the ball into an empty box - together with Ramsey, they must be effectively creative in order that van Persie can stay forward and finish our chances. If they are wasteful, Spurs will press forward and overrun our defence.
I've been bullish all week about our chances in this game, and I still think the gap between the two teams is not as pronounced as media commentators have claimed. But our squad is a mess due to injuries and our terrible transfer market strategy, and I increasingly feel we play with a formation that makes us play in a narrow, ineffective way. By contrast, I think Spurs play with a formation that gives them greater solidity and greater width. They've also, through years of trial and error in the transfer market, finally happened upon a genuinely strong starting XI.
A 1-1 or 2-2 is probably the most likely result tomorrow, especially as Tottenham may well be happy to bag a point and scurry home. But the game may come down to who commits the most individual mistakes. Szczesny's unforced error was the difference between a draw and a Tottenham win last time we met - let's hope we can profit from an individual mistake this time around.