Arsenal nearly choked by Tottenham's full-court press

Tottenham's pressing game means that even Petr Cech at the other end had little time on the ball - with Erik Lamela (right) and Harry Kane hounding the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Tottenham's pressing game means that even Petr Cech at the other end had little time on the ball - with Erik Lamela (right) and Harry Kane hounding the Arsenal goalkeeper.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • A late spell of pressure ensured Arsenal snatched a point, but Tottenham's excellent organisation without the ball meant Mauricio Pochettino's side dominated the midfield zone for long periods.

Spurs were proactive and cohesive in open play, with Arsenal's best chances coming from the unlikely route of set-pieces and crosses.

Both teams employed a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the two coaches demanded different things from their attacking line of three.

Arsene Wenger allowed Mesut Oezil freedom to drift laterally into the channels, while Joel Campbell and Alexis Sanchez, converted forwards, took up aggressive positions high up against the opposition full-backs.

Santi Cazorla endured a difficult game, repeatedly caught in possession by Tottenham's midfielders - and he was substituted, with Mathieu Flamini introduced to provide much-needed steel. Cazorla's struggles were precisely because Pochettino took the opposite approach to Wenger, and Tottenham were excellent without the ball.

His most advanced central midfielder, Mousa Dembele, played much closer to his two midfield colleagues and therefore in a position to close down, often starting the midfield pressure and setting an example to those behind.

Crucially, Spurs' wide players, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, pushed inside, ensuring they were capable of compressing Arsenal's midfield space both vertically and laterally.

The central pressing of the wide players meant Spurs were often vulnerable to a switch of play out to the Arsenal full-backs.

Even then, both Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were happy to sprint forward to confront their opposite numbers, with the centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld shifting across to take care of Sanchez or Campbell.

With such a congested midfield, both teams struggled to create chances from central positions. That is typical in matches with heavy pressing, with midfielders tired from closing down, meaning longer balls are more effective.

However, in the absence of Theo Walcott, Arsenal could not go long in behind the defence.

And this approach was precisely how Spurs took the lead - Rose's curled ball into the channel would not have been anything more than a speculative pass, but Laurent Koscielny chased Harry Kane rather than attempting to play offside and it became a perfect assist.

Yet, Arsenal battled back and dominated the final 20 minutes. While the substitute Kieran Gibbs was the unlikely hero in an unfamiliar left-wing position, equally crucial was Wenger's decision to introduce Flamini for Cazorla.

Flamini helped shield the defence, and in turn ensured Arsenal's attacking players were more justified in their advanced positioning.

The fact he was forced into that change, though, demonstrated how much Arsenal had struggled against Spurs' press.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Arsenal nearly choked by Tottenham's full-court press'. Print Edition | Subscribe