Arsenal Analysed | The reasons why we beat Spurs

Kai Havertz scores against Tottenham

North London derby wins are always cherished, but our first back-to-back successes at Tottenham since 1988 will certainly live long in the memory.

Adrian Clarke has cast his expert eye over our 3-2 win against Tottenham Hotspur to find out why we were successful this time around, as we continued our push for the Premier League title.

Havertz the hero

Kai Havertz equalled Alexis Sanchez’s record of providing a goal and an assist in four different Premier League matches in a campaign, a landmark set by the Chilean in 2016/17, but remarkably, our on-song No. 29 has achieved that feat across his last 13 appearances alone.

His inch-perfect cross-field pass to release Bukayo Saka for our second goal on the counter-attack was sublime in its execution, and the winger's fabulous finish completed a perfect breakaway.

Kai Havertz's assist for Bukayo Saka's goal at Tottenham

Aside from scoring our third goal with a header from Declan Rice’s corner (his only attempt of the game) the German’s all-round performance was top-class.

Always an outlet for David Raya and the defenders to hit with a longer pass that missed out Tottenham’s press, Havertz worked hard to show for the ball throughout. His hold-up play was excellent, helping us gain territory at key moments.

As shown on this chalkboard (below) our centre forward contributed four vital clearances from inside his own six-yard box (shown by the triangles), as well as linking play in three distinct parts of the pitch. Dropping back to help us play out from the back when needed, he also stretched Spurs by showing for the ball on both wings, holding onto the ball until teammates could get up to support him.

Kai Havertz's chalkboard from the Tottenham game

Defending our box

Our well-disciplined 4-4-2 shape out of possession was hard for the hosts to break down, so they resorted to whipping hopeful crosses into the box from wide areas. It was the highest number of crosses we have faced during the entire campaign, with the bulk from open play arriving from Spurs’ right-hand side. 

Opponent Date Crosses (inc. corners)
Tottenham Hotspur 28/04/2024 34
Manchester City 31/03/2024 32
Luton Town 03/04/2024 22

Raya is confident at coming out to collect hanging balls, and he did so flawlessly on numerous occasions.

Our defensive players also showed incredible resilience. Forced into making 19 headed clearances (our most of the season, by four) the likes of Ben White (6), William Saliba (4), Gabriel (4), Havertz (4) and Rice (3) held firm.

The game state from 65 minutes onwards, after Cristian Romero was gifted a goal out of nowhere, saw the Gunners withstand a lot of territorial pressure, yet under that duress we stood tall, repelling a series of dangerous balls sent into our box.

Arsenal clearances v Spurs

A chalkboard showing all our clearances against Tottenham

Set-piece mastery

Two wonderful corner kick deliveries from Saka and Rice provided crucial goals, and it is worth breaking down the routine we produced for Havertz’s matchwinner, from an accurate Rice inswinger.

As we so often do, we stationed most of our attackers at the far post, with Havertz and Gabriel man-marked. Escaping their close attention would be key, and the way they managed it was simple, but also smart in the extreme.

Here is the initial setup with Havertz and Dejan Kulusevski circled in yellow, and Gabriel circled in green:

The corner routine that saw us score against Tottenham

The Brazilian triggered the runs by darting through a gap closer to the goalline, taking his marker with him. Havertz simultaneously arcs his run around the outside as the pair cross over, and this causes Kulusevski to collide with Tottenham’s own zonal markers in the process:

The corner routine that saw us score against Tottenham

Our striker gets a two-yard advantage, looping his run around the stationary zonal defenders to head home unopposed. Meanwhile, Kulusevski was left stranded (circled) a long way from the player he was supposed to mark:

The corner routine that saw us score against Tottenham

It was another fabulous routine that means we have now scored 16 goals from corners this season. Not since Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion in 2016 has a Premier League team found the back of the net with as many.

Saka shines

Saka delivered another memorable performance against our north London rivals, scoring a great goal and being heavily involved throughout. 

It felt as if we tactically targeted his duel with Ben Davies as an avenue where we would enjoy success, and this proved to be the case as he constantly ran at the Welshman. It is not often you see a winger receive the most touches of the ball, but that was the case here.

Most touches by Arsenal players
Bukayo Saka 61
Declan Rice 57
William Saliba 56
Gabriel 55
Thomas Partey 55

As you can see clearly on this attacking thirds chalkboard, we focused most of our attacking attention on getting Saka into 1v1s against Tottenham’s stand-in left-back:

The attacking areas we exploited against Tottenham

Recovering our composure

We found ourselves 3-0 up without ever settling into a rhythm on the ball, only having a 28.5 per cent share of possession during the first half.

Mikel Arteta’s message at the break was clear. He wanted his players to manage the game by asserting better control of possession, keeping the ball patiently and making the home side chase it. This plan worked brilliantly for 20 minutes as we toyed with Tottenham, completing over 90 per cent of our passes, and keeping the distribution short and sharp:

  0-45 mins 45-64 mins 65-96 mins
Passes 137 120 85
Pass accuracy % 75.9% 90.8% 75.3%
Possession % 28.5% 60.6% 38.3%
Long pass % 15.3% 8.3% 20%

Raya’s loose pass to Romero for Spurs’ first goal changed the dynamic, with Ange Postecoglou’s side hugely reinvigorated from that point onwards. Forced onto the back foot, and with a busy recent schedule also sapping energy levels, we found it harder to counter with the sort of speed that was required.

This position made for a nervy spell, exacerbated by Son Heung-Min’s late penalty, but satisfyingly the team showed great courage, resolve and togetherness to see the job through and record a fabulous, but hard-earned, three-point haul.

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