Why Arsenal can be confident of beating Spurs despite one key defensive flaw ahead of epic North London Derby
FANS are being treated to an epic North London Derby between Spurs and Arsenal on Sunday.
Having dropped points in their last outing against Newcastle, Mikel Arteta’s title-chasers will not want Manchester City to gain any more ground.
Meanwhile, Antonio Conte’s Spurs have been struggling for form recently and have conceded two or more goals in their last seven Premier League matches.
Conte has always been renowned for coaching a strong defensive unit.
At the moment, Spurs are anything but, and will now face one of the most potent attacking forces in the league.
In the reverse fixture, Arsenal thrashed their bitter rivals 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium back in October.
Conte and co will be searching for revenge and to hand the league-leaders only their second loss of the campaign so far.
However, Arsenal haven’t lost a league match since the beginning of September and are one of the most in-form teams in Europe.
With a huge three points up for grabs, these two historic adversaries will lock horns in the hopes of claiming bragging rights which will make for an enthralling derby matchup.
Here are three areas where the game will be won and lost.
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Spurs’ counterattacking threat
Despite Tottenham’s frailties tactically and technically this season, you can be guaranteed that Conte’s side will be effective on the break.
In the first meeting this season between these two teams, Spurs looked pretty threatening during counterattacking situations and the Lilywhites’ only goal of the game came from these scenarios.
It was a penalty which was won by Richarlison and converted by none other than Harry Kane but the build-up to the infringement in the area was some pretty silky transition play by Spurs.
This weekend, a similar approach from Tottenham Hotspur can be expected in the derby as Conte will feel this method is the best way for his side to cope against a superior opponent.
Spurs will try to hit the channels as much as possible when breaking from deep.
The reason for this is because Arsenal keep their fullbacks really high in the final third.
The Gunners’ fullbacks create triangles with the nearest central midfielder and winger out wide.
Of course, this means that the area beside Arsenal’s centre-backs is largely exposed and can be exploited.
The counterattacks will need to be rapid so that the fullbacks are unable to track back and recover their position in the defensive line.
With fast players such as Son Heung-min, Bryan Gil and even Harry Kane to an extent, Spurs can cause significant damage by using the wide spaces during transitional situations to get at Arsenal’s defence.
This approach was used in the reverse fixture at the Emirates, and it is highly likely to make a return this weekend given how Conte likes to set up his team in big games.
Protecting the edge of the area
Conte is a dogmatist, for better or worse.
All of the Italian’s teams have played in a very similar manner which has seen success at almost every club he has been at.
The Premier League-winner wants his sides to sit back and soak up pressure from deep.
Given that Spurs mainly line out in a 3-4-3 under his tutelage, this will become a 5-4-1 when the hosts are defending in a low block.
The objective for Spurs is to ensure that space between the lines is compact and impenetrable, while limiting the space between the defenders and goalkeeper so that their opponents are forced to try beak them down with patient passing as opposed to direct balls over the top.
The issue that Tottenham will face is that Arsenal are one of the most patient possession-based sides in the league.
Arteta’s men regularly face sturdy deep blocks but always find solutions to break them down and create goalscoring opportunities.
One way the Gunners do this is through their wide triangles.
Previously, we discussed how the fullbacks push high to form these overloads out on the flanks, but what exactly is their purpose?
Essentially, Arsenal position one player in the halfspaces, one holding the width and have another sitting deeper as the nadir of the triangle.
The players on the inside and outside pin the opposition’s defenders down, which allows the man at the base to have time and space on the ball when they receive it.
Once this player has control of the ball, they look to play lofted balls over the opponent’s defenders into teammates in the box who can attack the ball.
Normally, Odegaard or Granit Xhaka occupy these positions on the left and right as the pair are undeniably the best passers in Arsenal’s squad and can unlock defensive blocks with their excellent passing ranges.
Nonetheless, the order of the players doesn’t really matter. The trio can rotate and interchange positions as long as the triangle is maintained.
Spurs have a tendency to be passive when defending, happy to sit off and defend their own penalty box without much enthusiasm to win the ball back.
This cost them dearly in the North London Derby previously in the 2022/23 campaign.
This time around, Conte will need to ensure that his players are constantly switched on and are ready to step out to the edge of the area when Arsenal’s players receive the ball in these positions.
If Tottenham’s midfielders were a little more alert and pushed out faster to close Partey down, the goal could’ve been easily avoided.
Little margins like this matter greatly in huge games like this Sunday’s derby.
While Tottenham have had many difficulties defensively this season, one of the side’s weakest areas is playing out from the back.
It has become a cliché that Conte’s teams sit deep and hit their opponents on the break and prefer more direct football as opposed to building play up from the goalkeeper.
This cliché isn’t necessarily wrong, but Spurs are certainly a team that play out from the back and try to progress through opponent pressure in the first third of the pitch.
Unfortunately, it is an area that still requires quite a lot of work from Conte and his coaching staff.
Spurs can be quite easy to press, especially if the defending side decides to go man-for-man in the press.
Tottenham Hotspur’s central defenders are not overly confident playing under pressure which can lead to errors during build-up play, especially if the opposition are pressing with intensity.
Quite often, when placed under such relentless pressure from the defensive side, Spurs’ centre-backs stop looking for short passes into the midfielders and end up pumping it long towards Harry Kane.
Kane is excellent in the air and so this isn’t necessarily a poor solution from the London club.
However, if defenders are aware of the threat, they can anticipate these passes to the striker and win back possession.
So what does this all mean?
Arsenal are the favourites heading into this game.
This is the first time since before the departure of Arsene Wenger that the Gunners will be heading to Spurs’ ground without being the underdogs.
With City breathing down Arsenal’s neck and Conte staring down the barrel of the gun, both managers will be feeling the pressure to pick up all three points for very different reasons.
The contrasting tactical styles between the two sides means that this derby will be a treat for viewers and the result could have staggering repercussions when May rolls around.
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