A NLD Arsenal scouting report: Sp*rs

Right then. Derby time. Spurs travel to the Emirates for a ridiculously early high noon Sunday kickoff. The sides come into this game in different form. Tottenham remain unbeaten in the league but 5 draws from 10 matches have them in 6th place. They’ve not won since their impressive 2-0 defeat of Manchester City, a run of six matches that includes three consecutive league draws to West Brom, Bournemouth and Leicester. By contrast, Arsenal have won the last two and are on a 15 match unbeaten run that stretches back to the opening day of the Premier League season August 14.

But for all of the good performances Arsenal have put in lately, form and league position tend to matter less in these fiercely contested derbies. What will be of considerably more importance is which players with injury doubts will be available for both sides.  

In his press conference following their Wednesday evening defeat to Bayer Leverkusen, Mauricio Pochetinno said it would be difficult for Harry Kane to play from the start. The Tottenham striker suffered ankle ligament damage against Sunderland in mid September and hasn’t played since. Spurs initially appeared to be coping fine with Kane’s injury. They won 4 straight in the games immediately following the injury, including the 2-0 defeat of Man City, and scored 10 goals. However they’ve not won since and have scored just 3 goals in the 6 match winless run.  Based on comments Pochetinno made Friday Kane has recovered well and will definitely at least be in the squad. He said there is a 50-50 chance he’ll start.  

However, crucially for Spurs they’ll be without Toby Alderweireld in the center of defense. Despite hopes he could be back for the derby, Pochetinno said Friday the Belgian center back will be out until after the international break. He’s been out with a knee injury suffered in Spurs 1-1 draw with West Brom last month. Alderweird’s partnership with Jan Vertonghen was a huge reason Spurs had the joint best defense in the Premier League last season having conceded just 35 goals against and boast the best defense so far this season, having conceded just 5 in 10 matches. Both players are capable of playing the high line Spurs will employ when they press high up the pitch but Alderweireld is the pacier of the two and is therefore more capable of making recovery runs when the opposition get in behind. Alderweireld also rarely makes mistakes, a key attribute in these tense derbies. He’ll likely be replaced by Eric Dier. Dier is a very good player but is still quite young and has a tendency to switch off and be a bit rash in the tackle. Arsenal would do well to get him on a booking early.

Mousa Dembele is in contention to return from injury while it looks like Erik Lamela is certain to miss. Moussa Sissoko is serving the final match of a ban for his elbow to the face of Harry Arter.

As for Arsenal I’ve yet to find a reliable source that’s been able to definitively say whether or not Cazorla, Walcott, Monreal, Gibbs and Bellerin will be available. Whoscored.com has listed all five as doubts. From what I can gather it seems highly unlikely Santi will play but the other four have a decent chance of featuring.

Spurs boast best defensive record

Pochetinno side’s have become synonymous with pressing and tremendous energy off the ball. They completed the third most tackles per game last season (21.1) behind only Liverpool (22.9), another side known for its all-action pressing under Klopp, and Leicester (22.9), the league champions, en route to their joint league-best 35 goals conceded.

It’s interesting then that Spurs’ tackles per game total is down to 17.1, just 14th in the league and less than Arsenal’s 17.1 tackles per game, despite them still having the best defensive record in the league. They also have the fewest interceptions per game in the league at just 9.7, behind Liverpool’s 10. It would make sense that pressing sides get fewer interceptions because the opposition likely has less controlled possession in their attacking half where they’re more likely to take chances playing passes that have a higher risk of being intercepted. When you’re being pressed in your own half you’re more likely to launch the ball long out of immediate danger than to try a risky pass that could be intercepted and spring a counter deep in your own half.

Still, I was surprised Tottenham aren’t completing more tackles. I took a look at Tottenham and Arsenal’s tackles and interceptions against opposition they’ve had in common this season- Leicester, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Liverpool. In those four games Arsenal and Tottenham have completed a similar number of total tackles, 69 for Arsenal to 64 for Spurs. The number of tackles in the opposition half is also similar, 22 for Arsenal to 21 for Spurs. There’s a major difference in interception stats. Arsenal have 68 total interceptions over the four games to 32 for Spurs. Arsenal have 18 interceptions in the opposition half, double Spurs 9 in the opposition half. I’ve done a game-by-game comparison you can view by clicking here. More importantly however Spurs conceded just 3 goals from the 4 matches and collected 8 points while Arsenal conceded 5 goals and collected just 5 points (the data is certainly skewed by the 4 goals we conceded against Liverpool when we were forced to start Rob Holden and Calum Chambers at center back).

This is all a roundabout way of highlighting my surprise Spurs have such an impressive defensive record seemingly without completing many defensive actions. I put it to fellow Soccermetrica contributor Dan Moskowitz where Spurs defensive dominance might show in the data. He pointed out that Spurs play more long balls (75) in the league than anyone but Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton and Middlesbrough (Arsenal play the fewest in the league with 48). Their 30.7 clearances per game is the second most in the league (Arsenal have the fewest with 19.2). This was fairly surprising and Moskowitz pointed out it may highlight that Spurs take fewer risks playing out of the back that may lead to chances for the opposition to win the ball back high up the pitch and counter. Instead they’re looking to get it away from their goal into the opposition half quickly.

Their propensity to play it long might also go some way to explaining why Spurs have scored far fewer goals (14) than fellow rivals for the title Man City (24), Liverpool (24), Arsenal (23) and Chelsea (21). Everton have also scored more with 15. Perhaps the more long balls are indicating less controlled build up and fewer clear-cut chances. Spurs take the fifth highest percentage of shots outside of the box in the league (46%) behind Hull (51%), Leicester (49%), Watford (47%) and Burnley (47%). What do those four other sides have in common? They all rank in the bottom six in average possession. Spurs take an awful lot of shots outside the box for a team with the third highest possession total in the league (56.3%). Spurs are currently the only team in the top six of the league table that are also in the top 10 in terms of shots outside the box per game. This indicates those other sides (Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton) are creating shooting opportunities from a closer range with a higher chance of scoring or creating a chance off a rebound. Arsenal and Chelsea shoot the lowest percentage of shots outside the box with 36%.

Last weekend against Leicester many of Spurs' long balls were big diagonals from the center backs to the opposite-side fullback as opposed to just hopeful hoofs forward. Vertonghen and Dier looked to get it wide to the advanced fullbacks Walker and Rose with Leicester defending with a narrow midfield four. Rose and Walker are fine attacking center backs but Tottenham's midfield five created very little. They had little by way of meaningful goal scoring chances. Their goal came from a penalty but their only other chance coming to mind was Vertonghen’s late thumping header off the crossbar from a cross from Georges-Kevin Nkuodou.

Moskowitz also pointed out Spurs commit the third most fouls in the league with 13.3 (Arsenal commit the fewest with 9.5). Pochetinno’s side will commit lots of niggling tactical fouls to break up play and prevent counter attacks. Referees tend to be lenient in these sorts of high-tension derby fixtures but hopefully cynical tactical fouls aimed at breaking up our rhythm will be punished with early yellows so Spurs can’t continually foul to stop countering opportunities. I believe it was one of the Chelsea fixtures last season when Jose Mourinho’s side were quite clearly strategically fouling us high up the pitch to break up the game and they were never punished.

Final thoughts

Like every NLD this will be a highly-charged battle where it will be vital we stay switched on and also keep our heads during frantic passages of play. It will be sloppy at times but we’re the better footballing side so if we match Spurs’ intensity and minimize mistakes our quality should eventually show through.

Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal: Spurs press pins deep defending Arsenal

A second half brace from Harry Kane gave an outstanding Tottenham a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Arsenal in the North London Derby. Despite going behind from an 11th minute Mesut Ozil tap in, Spurs dominated throughout and were deserving winners. The win sent Spurs a point ahead of Arsenal and into 5th after Southampton's dramatic late win over QPR.

Arsenal adopted a similar defensively organized, counter-attacking approach to their 2-0 away win over Manchester City at the Emirates three weeks ago, an excellent performance that earned the Gunners their first away win over City, Manchester United or Chelsea since 2011. In the past Arsene Wenger has been rightly criticized for his unwillingness to adopt a more pragmatic approach to big away fixtures. The City performance seemed to suggest an evolution of Wenger's tactics and a maturation of his players. They showed tremendous professionalism and concentration, comfortably nullifying the attacking threat from City and carving out good chances of their own that they finished efficiently.

Given the effectiveness of that performance it maybe wasn't a surprise that Wenger would adopt the same approach in another big away fixture against talented opposition. Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey both dropped deep in the middle of midfield with Francis Coquelin just behind them in the hole giving Arsenal a 4-1-4-1 shape with 9 players behind the ball. It was a strategy aimed at preventing Coquelin becoming overrun in central areas in front of the back four. Both Tottenham wide players Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen enjoy tucking inside from the channels to find space between the lines. With Ramsey and Cazorla dropping deep it prevented Eriksen and Lamela from creating 2 v. 1 or 3 v. 1 overloads against Coquelin, who had a direct opponent in Spur's central attacking midfielder Mousa Dembele.

Both sides attack the same channel

With the center of the pitch crowded, the space to exploit for both sides was in wide areas. Both sides were particularly vulnerable down the same side of the pitch, Arsenal's right and Spurs left. Spurs were remarkably dangerous when they were able to quickly switch the point of attack from their right side to the left channel. Eriksen was Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin's direct opponent. With Eriksen tucking inside to central areas from the left channel, it forced Bellerin to follow him into very narrow positions, leaving space down the channel for Spurs left back Danny Rose to sprint into. Rose was able to sprint past Arsenal right midfielder Danny Welbeck, in the side ahead of Theo Walcott for his defensive work rate, and get the ball in space in the attacking third.

With Eriksen's narrow positioning, Bellerin was forced inside, leaving space on the right side of Arsenal's defense. Tottenham were able to switch the point of attack quickly in the opening half and find Danny Rose in space down that channel.

With Eriksen's narrow positioning, Bellerin was forced inside, leaving space on the right side of Arsenal's defense. Tottenham were able to switch the point of attack quickly in the opening half and find Danny Rose in space down that channel.

Rose got the ball in dangerous positions at the edge of the 18 yard box four times in the opening half hour. He delivered a poor ball in early after getting to the end line, produced a smart save from Ospina in the 14th, shot just wide of Opsina's back post in the 22nd and delivered another disappointing ball after again getting behind the defense in the 24th. Despite Arsenal being set up to defend and prevent good scoring chances for Spurs, the tactic wasn't working particularly well. Spurs inability to find the net in the first half was more a product of their lack of ruthlessness in the final third and strong goalkeeping from Opsina than Arsenal keeping them contained.

Rose's forays forward did create space for Arsenal to break into down their right and they looked dangerous in the opening half hour countering into that channel. Arsenal got their 11th minute opener when Giroud won the ball in back in midfield and it ended up at Welbeck's feet around the right channel. Welbeck took one touch behind Rose, who was high up the pitch with Spurs having just been in possession, and had room to carry the ball towards the endline. He cut it back for Giroud whose scuffed shot fell kindly to Ozil to tuck home at the back post.

Spurs press, Arsenal pinned deep

Spurs continued to dominate possession and control proceedings in the second half. The key tactical feature of the final 45 minutes was Arsenal's deep defending and Spurs pressing. With Arsenal continuing to drop deep near their own box with a defensive midfield bank of 5, Olivier Giroud became isolated up front. Spurs quickly closed down Arsenal high up the pitch when they lost the ball and the Gunners simply didn't have an outlet ball to spring counters. Their only release valve was hopeful balls towards Giroud, who was being outmanned by Spurs' center backs Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier. The graphic below shows that the bulk of passes to Giroud in the second half were either in deep positions near midfield or hopeful long ball. Spurs won possession back quickly and created wave after wave of attacking pressure. They finally broke Arsenal's resistance in the 56th through Kane after a sustained spell of pressure.

The graphic below of where each team won tackles highlights the two sides' strategies. Spurs pressed quickly when they lost possession and won the ball higher up the pitch while Arsenal defended in deep lines around their own 18 yard box.

Tottenham got fantastic performances throughout the lineup. Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb comfortably controlled the middle of the park with Bentaleb providing the assist for Kane's winner. Eriksen put in a typical tidy performance tucking inside and linking play from midfield to attack, Lamela took a while to get going but grew into it and offered plenty of creativity in the second half. The majority of the plaudits however will rightly go to Kane. His coolness in front of goal is hardly believable given his age and lack of Premier League experience but he's also more than just a ruthless finisher. His work rate off the ball is phenomenal- he'll run in behind the defense, work the channels to get on the ball and hold up play with his back to goal.


It would be unfair to criticize Wenger for Arsenal's approach given the success a similar one brought at City but it's difficult not to wonder how this contest would have panned out had his side looked to establish a bit more authority. Spurs had Bentaleb, Mason and Dier in their defensive spine and although all three are fine players, they are 20, 23 and 21 years of age respectively and don't have a ton of big game experience. Could Arsenal have rattled their nerve with more attacking pressure?

For Pochettino and Spurs this performance should provide a platform for what they're capable of. This was an even more complete and dominant performance than their 5-3 win over Chelsea. They simply didn't allow Arsenal to get into any decent scoring positions for the bulk of the 90 minutes. The question now is can they consistently replicate this type of performance. Two seasons ago Spurs beat Arsenal by the same 2-1 scoreline at White Hart Lane in early March. The lead left them 7 points clear of Arsenal and third in the league but Wenger's side ultimately secured the final Champions League spot at their expense by a point on the final day of the season. Arsenal are the more talented side and will still be considered favorites for the Champions League but Pochettino is a very good manager and Liverpool proved last season what momentum in the second half of the season can do for a squad. With 13 points from their last 6 fixtures, including wins over Chelsea and Arsenal, they're in a great run of form at just the right time.

Arsenal vs. Tottenahm; North London Derby Preview

Arsenal travel to White Hart Lane Saturday to play Spurs in a NLD that could have significant implications in the race for Champions League places. Arsenal sit fifth in the league and trail Southampton for the final Champions League position on goal difference; Spurs are just two points adrift in sixth. The reverse fixture at the Emirates in September ended in a 1-1 draw with goals from Nacer Chadli and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a game largely controlled by the home side.

Here are some potential tactical features to look for and some interesting stats.

  • Arsenal have taken 15 out of 18 possible points from their last six matches; Spurs have taken 13 out of 18. Only Liverpool have recorded more points in their last 6 (16).
  • Mauricio Pochettino has used Moussa Dembele in a central attacking midfield role behind Harry Kane in Tottenham's last two fixtures with Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen on the right and left flanks respectively. Both Lamela and Eriksen like to tuck inside to central areas. For Arsenal, this could cause Francis Coquelin, whose main matchup will be with Dembele, to become overloaded in central areas at the base of Arsenal's midfield. It'll be important for Aaron Ramsey to get close to Coquelin when Spurs are in possession so that Lamela and Eriksen can't find pockets of space either side of Coquelin.
  • With Alexis Sanchez set to miss out with a hamstring injury, Theo Walcott will likely get his second successive start. Sanchez is obviously a big miss- he's arguably been the Premier League's best player in his opening season- but Walcott is a strong replacement and provides Arsenal's attack with solid balance. His pace poses a threat in behind the opposition defense that you don't get from striker Olivier Giroud and he's usually a proficient finisher when through on goal. He also gives the Gunners a threat in wide areas where he can beat the opposition fullback with his pace, get to the endline and cut the ball back into the box.
  • The positioning of Tottenham left back Danny Rose when Spurs are in possession will be interesting. With Eriksen likely to be tucking inside ahead of him, he could be responsible for providing Spurs with width in the attacking third. However, by getting into advanced positions he'll allow Walcott space in behind down the channels to counter into, an area where Walcott's pace can be deadly.
  • Spurs are 11th in home goals conceded while Arsenal are third in away goals scored. I'd be shocked if Arsenal didn't score at some point during the 90 minutes. In order to secure three points Spurs will need multiple goals but they proved in their 5-3 home win over Chelsea they're capable.
  • Spurs have just the 9th best home record in the league; Arsenal have the 5th best away record.
  • All eyes will be on Harry Kane. The 21 year old has been a revelation this season. His 20 goals in all competitions lead the Premier League and he combines that proficiency in front of goal with a tremendous work rate off the ball. The battle between him and veteran Arsenal center backs Laurent Koscienly and Per Mertesacker should be fascinating.