Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Tottenham in the north London derby on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Paul Hirst for their views.
The caricatures of Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas couldn’t be further removed: Redknapp is the old-school wheeler-dealer and motivator who takes little interest in tactics, while Villas-Boas is the former opposition scout who gives his players specific, rigid instructions for each game.
Yet just as Redknapp often made astute strategic decisions - a half-time switch from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 helped turn Arsenal’s 2-0 lead into a 2-3 defeat two seasons ago – Tottenham have occasionally looked disorganised this season, and remain a work in progress.
Although he naturally prefers a 4-3-3, Villas-Boas has used a 4-2-3-1 system so far this term. Spurs won’t accept Arsenal dominance – they’re likely to press in midfield, and consequently keep a high defensive line, which was exploited repeatedly by Sergio Aguero last weekend. Villas-Boas should have learnt his lesson against Arsenal, however, after being defeated 5-3 in his Chelsea days, when Arsenal’s attackers constantly sprinted in behind his defence.
His defenders are skilled at bringing the ball forward, so it would be wise to press high up the pitch when Spurs’ goalkeeper has the ball. It’s also worth noting that Jan Vertonghen, while left-footed, is naturally a centre back rather than a left back, and has encountered problems in one-versus-one situations against quick right wingers.
The key to the midfield is Mousa Dembele - his sheer verticality and directness makes Tottenham a thrilling side when he’s included in the starting XI. If the Belgian is injured, Villas-Boas lacks a natural replacement and Tom Huddlestone makes them a flatter, more patient side - although his passing range shouldn’t be underestimated. Sandro is the disciplined ball-winner, and overall Tottenham defend intelligently without resorting to rash tackles.
On the flanks, the change in formation means Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon often receive the ball higher up the pitch, sometimes in behind the defence rather than out on the touchlines. Bale, for example, has only dribbled past an opponent 10 times in 10 starts. He’s become a regular shooter, however, and Tottenham attempt 51 per cent of shots from outside the box, the joint-highest in the Premier League with QPR.
Arsenal should be aware that Tottenham’s pressing and high defensive line is very tiring, and Villas-Boas has often struggled to close games out - Spurs have conceded in the final 10 minutes in six matches this season, losing six points in the process. Arsenal must fight for the duration.
PAUL HIRST, PRESS ASSOCIATION
It’s an absolutely huge game. It must still hurt Tottenham, what happened last year. When they played at the Emirates last season, they were 10 points ahead of Arsenal. They went 2-0 up and would have gone 13 points clear. They blew it in spectacular style after that, which will still hurt. They’ll be wanting to get one over on Arsenal on Saturday.
I can see a lot of goals. Both defences don’t really seem to be working too effectively at the moment. Arsenal conceded a hatful against Reading and three against Fulham. Spurs look equally as weak. There are question marks over William Gallas and if he still has the pace to keep up with the modern game. Caulker is inexperienced and Kyle Walker hasn’t had the best season so far. Jan Vertonghen is the only one who’s really performed well. I can see a lot of goals for both teams. It should be a humdinger.
Villas-Boas has a very modern way of thinking and he probably thinks 4-4-2 is a bit too basic. Last season Adebayor and Defoe played together seven times, and Spurs won six of those matches. Both of the strikers scored five goals each, which suggests that playing them together does work. The manager seems set on the idea to only play one of them, with Dempsey in the hole behind. I’m not convinced that works. If it all goes wrong, he could go 4-4-2, but I’d imagine he will start with one striker. I think Adebayor will be picked. Villas-Boas dropped Defoe after scoring a hat-trick because he thinks Adebayor works better in that lone striker role. With the game being against his old club, Adebayor will be motivated to get one over on Wenger.
At times, when Tottenham go forward on the wings, it’s breathtaking to watch. Walker and Vertonghen will look to get on the overlap, and we all know how quick Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are. They’ll get the ball out to the flanks as soon as possible and try and get in behind Arsenal.
I think Arsenal will win 3-2. I can’t see it being a 0-0 draw. Both defences are leaking goals and are very strong going forward.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source