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ARSENAL make the short trip to Tottenham on Thursday night for what is basically a Champions League playoff between the traditional rivals.
Both sides are capable of winning – but both sides are equally capable of delivering a shocker of a performance when the pressure is on.
Tottenham striker Heung-Min Son celebrates with Harry Kane after scoring against LiverpoolCredit: AFP
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has been a relevationCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
While the match was relatively unremarkable the comments made afterwards by the Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp were not.
Klopp was critical of the Spurs game plan and in particular the fact that they were willing to allow Liverpool to have the majority of possession as the North London side looked to sit deep and then attack Liverpool on the counter.
Naughty Tottenham, not just opening up and letting Liverpool get in behind.
Given that Spurs were able to hold Liverpool to a draw, however, there has to be some justification of the style of play that we saw from Conte’s side.
The former Serie A coach has shown himself once again to be a tactically intelligent and versatile coach.
The question now though is whether we will see the same approach or even something similar in the upcoming North London derby.
Against Liverpool we saw Spurs defend in an extremely compact defensive shape. There was little or no effective space between the spurs defensive line and midfield and this made it hard for Liverpool to play into the final third
As Tottenham have to win and they are at home, you’d expect to see them be a little more proactive, wouldn’t you?
Will this make Conte and his coaching staff be more forward-thinking going into this game?
The truth is that there is danger in that as Arsenal have developed into one of the most interesting and effective attacking sides in the Premier League.
If Spurs sit off then Arsenal are more patient than Liverpool – but if they are more attacking then Arsenal also have the ability to attack quickly on the counter.
We think that Spurs will initially look to defend in a more compact shape – although they are likely to try to get on the ball more than they did against Liverpool – and turn it into a second-half smash and grab led by Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son with Dejan Kulusevski being the getaway driver.
How will Spurs defend?
Well, in the first instance we already know that Spurs will look to play with a back three in this match although when they are defending the wing-backs are quick to drop back in and form a back five on the defensive line.
With the back three system, we still tend to see Spurs avoid man-marking the opposition attacker.
The presence of Hojbjerg and Bentancur in front of the defensive line is key. They are intelligent in their positioning and break up opposition attacks before they can get through to the defensive line
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was very disciplined and kept it tight against Liverpool
Instead, the three central defenders will defend zonally and pass players on while maintaining their own position.
This, when combined with the wing-backs dropping back and the two midfielders sitting in front of the defence, makes it exceptionally difficult to break Spurs down when they are organised.
Arsenal have impressed recently with their flexibility in terms of the way that they attack and they will use movement from the midfield, and especially Martin Odegaard, to try to break through the Spurs defensive system.
This is why it is going to be important for Spurs to sit in a compact shape and not be attracted out towards the ball when Arsenal are in possession.
Here, the structure from Arsenal as they build up the play is versatile. Tomiyasu, at RB, stays deep as part of the defensive line while Nuno Tavares, at LB, moves high
The January signing by Spurs of the Uruguayan international midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur has been key in strengthening the middle of the pitch for Spurs.
While he is capable of passing and progressing the ball effectively he is also an extremely smart footballer who combines well with Hojbjerg in the centre of the midfield to stop the opposition from being able to comfortably play through the centre and into the feet of the defenders.
They block passing lanes extremely well and will make life difficult for the Arsenal midfield in this match.
Can Arsenal break Spurs down?
At the start of this season if we were asked whether Arsenal had the players or the system to break down teams who sat back and invited them to attack then the answer would have been a resounding no.
Tomiyasu has carried the ball forward and Odegaard is smart enough to get out of the way and to find space wide where he can receive the ball
At that point under their coach Mikel Arteta, there is no doubt that Arsenal were more effective on the counter-attack and they were often accused of overplaying when they were trying to play out from the back.
Now, Arsenal are versatile in their approach and the patterns that they use when they are building the attack.
This is especially true when they have the Japanese international Takehiro Tomiyasu in their team. Tomiyasu plays at right-back but he is tactically intelligent.
He will hold deeper positions to give the central defenders options as they build out.
On the opposite side, the left back for Arsenal will typically go forward aggressively.
Mohamed Elneny was looking to attack against Leeds
This different shape on either side of the pitch is difficult for teams who are extremely organised defensively to defend against as defenders will be pulled into areas that they are not supposed to be in.
When they are building out against a more structured defensive unit we can expect to see Arsenal use forward runs in possession to unbalance the opposition.
The likes of Thomas Partey, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ben White are especially good when carrying the ball forward.
Watch out for the movement ahead of the ball of ex-Real Madrid player Martin Odegaard as the Norwegian international will read the positioning of the Spurs defensive players and find spaces around them in which he can receive the ball.
Spurs will look to attack on the counter
Given that Arsenal will look to push players forward in order to attack and break down Spurs defensive shape in this game they will be vulnerable to the counterattack.
Spurs are extremely dangerous when countering because of the skill sets of their three forward players.
As Kane receives the ball in the opposition half both Son and Kulusevski are running to take advantage of the lack of organisation from Liverpool
Kulusevski, Son and Kane are all dangerous forward players in their own right but when they play together they go to another level.
One of the most important things for Spurs in this match will be finding Kane in space from where he can turn and affect the game.
Although he is a central striker his ability to drop deep to receive and his passing ability creates a huge amount of threat for his team.
We can see how out of shape Liverpool are as they have had to push so many players forward to try to break down the defensive block of Spurs
Kane has become a dangerous playmaker and his willingness to drop deep allows the two central midfielders for Spurs to defend deep and not push forward and out of shape too early.
As he receives the ball in the midfield we tend to see the other attacking players from Spurs look to run immediately behind the defensive line as they know that the England skipper has the passing ability to find them.
The pace and movement of the South Korean striker Son will be particularly important in this match.
Expect to see him looking to come inside and play off the shoulder of the right-sided central defender for Arsenal consistently.
How will it play out?
As much as the man on the street would say Tottenham need to go for this game, you suspect Conte will approach it with a lot more caution.
If they go too gung-ho from the start, Arsenal have the ability to take advantage of the spaces and pick them off.
However, if Arsenal also approach the game with plenty of caution given that they’ll take a point from this all day long then we could see a frustrating stalemate that the Gunners will treat as a win.
Something has to give but we believe nothing will – we can see this finishing a draw and it being as they were at kick-off, with Arsenal one step closer to achieving Champions League qualification.
For more tactical analysis, scouting and stunning data visuals head over to Total Football Analysis – check out their monthly digital magazine which features 22 top articles in the May edition.
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