Saturday’s first North London derby of the season didn’t disappoint. Arsenal perhaps surprised everyone with their strong, confident, determined performance, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 at the Emirates.
Spurs were poor in the first half, looking lethargeic across the attack and failed to ask questions of the Gunners' defence.
Maurcio Pochettino’s men battled hard in the second half, but couldn’t create enough chances to find a way back into the game.
Shkodran Mustafi made it 1-0 on the 36th minute, heading in Mesut Özil’s free-kick. Alexis Sánchez quickly made it two before half-time after great work from Alexandre Lacazette.
Here are some tactical insights we picked up during the Gunners 2-0 win against Spurs on Saturday.
Arsenal stepped up to the challenge
This season, before kick-off, Arsenal had been attempting 16.1 tackles per games, as well as 12.3 interceptions and 21.5 clearances.
Wenger would have known his team had to be at their best on to get anything from the game. Although they hadn’t lost to Spurs at the Emirates since 2010, their last league win against their rivals was back in 2013.
The Gunners attempted 31 tackles, winning 17, made 18 interceptions and completed 37 clearances.
Wenger’s team are always known for their passing, possession-based football, but on Saturday they conceded dominance on the ball – making 397 to Spurs 549 passes and controlling just 42 per cent possession – and instead proved a lot of people wrong by winning the physical battle.
The true test for Arsenal now, is showing they can find this impressive level on a consistent basis.
Battle of 3-4-2-1
Going into Saturday’s fixture, both bosses decided to stick with their 3-4-2-1 formations, pitting theirs sides up against the same system, giving the game an intriguing under-layer.
Both had defenders missing, meaning both the central three and full-backs from Spurs weren’t first-choice, and Arsène Wenger would have had some reservations about the fitness of Mustafi.
On paper the away side have the players better-suited to the formation, with Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko versatile and able to play in various roles, rather than being more specific in certain positions, like Wenger’s XI.
However, Arsenal made it work with their effort and desire on Saturday. They wanted the game more, worked hard across the pitch and stopped Spurs finding space in the positions they need to cause problems.
It shows that, regardless of formations or personnel, sometimes it comes down to who has the belief to push their own agenda, not what system you play.
Gunners Fabulous Front Three
There was a little bit of surprise that Wenger picked Özil, Sánchez and Lacazette from the start on Saturday.
Despite this being his obvious, best attack, he’s resisted in the other big games in playing this trio.
From the first minute they repaid the Frenchman’s faith.
Working extremely hard to not only close down the Spurs back three, both the Chilean and the German worked back into the midfield to stop the away side overloading the middle of the park.
Lacazette made numerous great runs in behind the defence. It came off for the second goal and it was Sánchez who won the free-kick for the first and Özil who delivered the decisive pass.
Out of contract in the summer, Sánchez demonstrated his importance, attempting six shots, five dribbles and three key passes.
Now they have proven they have the understanding to play together in the biggest games, this could be a turning point to their season.
Kolašinac outperforms Trippier
Saturday’s fixture pitted two of the Premier League’s best full-backs against each other. Sead Kolašinac has impressed after arriving at Arsenal on a free from Schalke this summer, and with Kyle Walker moving to Manchester City, it’s been Kieran Trippier who has stepped out from his shadow and looks every part a top-class player for Spurs.
Rather than burst forward on countless occassions, the Bosnian almost sacrificed his attacking instincts to stop the threat Trippier brought.
Kolašinac made no key passes, attempted no crosses and just one long ball, yet defensively he won one tackle, one interception and five clearances and most importantly, no fouls.
On the opposite side, Trippier attempted three crosses, with none of them finding their target.
Ramsey shows other side of his game
In the Gunners four-man midfield, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey took on Mousa Dembélé, Moussa Sissoko in the centre, with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen able to drop deep to win the numbers battle.
Xhaka, after helping Switzerland qualify for the World Cup, had an up and down game, but did well after picking up a yellow card in the first half.
However it was Welsh midfielder Ramsey who was crucial to victory.
With the movement of the front three providing the spark in the final third, his runs from deep and box-to-box threat weren't needed as much as usual, it was on the defensive end where he really stepped up.
He attempted no shots and managed just one key pass, yet, with the five tackles he won, two interceptions and one clearance, he was excellent when defending and helped Arsenal win the middle of the park.
The win moves Arsenal up to fifth, but most importantly, they are just a single point behind Spurs and have shown they can raise their game to another level.