While much of the focus was on Arsenal's weaknesses ahead of the north London derby, it was Tottenham that came up short on Sunday, writes Adam Bate as we take an in-depth look at the game using Opta data.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal. Last Updated: 01/09/13 8:48pm
Olivier Giroud's first-half goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 victory in the north London derby against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium. Giroud tucked the ball away at the near post from Theo Walcott's cross and despite heavy pressure the visitors could not find an equaliser.
The build-up to the game was dominated by the contrast between the summer of change at Spurs compared to the lack of transfer activity from Arsenal but it was the home side who took the points to leave Arsene Wenger smiling at the end.
Here we take an in-depth look at the game, focusing on the perceived difference between the two midfields and the reality of a combative Arsenal performance...
Arsenal v Tottenham starting formations
Arsene Wenger was forced into two changes from the team that won at Fulham last weekend. Bacary Sagna's illness meant Carl Jenkinson came in at right-back, while Lukas Podolski's injury saw Jack Wilshere start alongside Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky in the centre with Santi Cazorla back on the left.
Andre Villas-Boas went with the same starting line-up that beat Swansea last time out. That meant a midfield trio of Mousa Dembele, Etienne Capoue and Paulinho with Sandro on the bench. The wide positions were filled by Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend but new boy Erik Lamela was among the substitutes.
Where it was won and lost
"Can they deal with the physical power of the opposition?" asked Jamie Carragher of Arsenal in the build-up to the game. Graeme Souness had similar concerns of the Gunners midfield. "They are too samey," he added. "None of them sense danger. None of them are good at closing the ball down."
Ultimately, Arsenal responded well to that challenge and it was the Spurs midfield that was left looking pedestrian by comparison. There were early warning signs as Dembele and Capoue each gave away free-kicks on the edge of their own area with Santi Cazorla twice going close to opening the scoring.
Chadli has turned Jenkinson three times in a couple of minutes. Could be in for a long afternoon...- Matt Hughes (@MattHughesTimes) September 1, 2013
But Spurs were a threat themselves in the early stages. Chadli appeared to have the beating of Jenkinson, putting in four crosses in the opening 15 minutes. The problem was that the delivery was not great. Indeed, of the 18 crosses that Spurs put into the box in the first 66 minutes of the game, only one found the target. Theo Walcott's crossing has been much-maligned but he alone produced two successful crosses for the home team taking his customary advanced position on the right.
Arsenal's goal and average positions show how they occupied central positions with Walcott (14) the outlet
One of those crosses led to the only goal of the game. And it came after Chadli was robbed of the ball inside the Arsenal half, allowing the Gunners to break. Spurs had plenty of players back but their defensive line was poor as Michael Dawson played Walcott onside as Rosicky threaded the ball through.
"We've talked time and again about that high line," said Jamie Carragher at half time. "For me, it's Jan Vertonghen. He doesn't know what's behind him so he can't hold that line." Walcott crossed from the right channel and Giroud succeeded in getting in front of his marker to stab the ball home. It means the Frenchman has scored in all three of Arsenal's Premier League games so far this season.
Confident, imaginative passing for the Arsenal goal. And Giroud's a new man this season- Ian Prior (@ianprior) September 1, 2013
In many ways, it was a typical Arsenal goal - particularly against teams that play a high line. Walcott got away again shortly after the goal when Ramsey threaded a ball behind the defence but the excellent Lloris denied the England man. It was a repeat moments later when Lloris - critical in his sweeper-keeper role given the regularity with which Spurs' line was being breached - burst off his line to tackle Walcott after a Cazorla through-ball.
Tottenham's relatively high line is reflected in their possession-winning line and their average positions.
There cannot be many midfielders worse to play against than Cazorla if you're playing a high line. The Spaniard made 30 successful through-balls last season - 13 more than any other Premier League player - and his quality highlighted Tottenham's problems. "You're relying on the midfield putting pressure on the ball," said Souness. "They can't have time to get their head up and hurt you."
Unfortunately for Spurs, their hosts did have time. Villas-Boas' midfield appeared robust but until the introduction of Sandro they were also slow. The contrast between the two midfields was marked. "We've talked about the strength and the power of Spurs but Arsenal have looked sharper," said Carragher.
Tottenham full of musclemen in midfield, need some creativity in there to feed Soldado.- Neil Ashton (@neilashton_) September 1, 2013
The Gunners midfield may be styled as a series of diminutive ball-players but Ramsey was in combative mood. The Wales international made more tackles than any other player on the field. Moreover, the withdrawal of Jack Wilshere through injury brought on the returning Mathieu Flamini and the experienced midfielder showed he could still get involved in a midfield tussle too.
"I think the impact Flamini had was important," added Carragher. "I'm not saying he is the answer but he put himself about and he organised them by showing a bit of leadership. That's what they needed. It was so obvious."
|Arsenal v Tottenham - Tackles|
Tottenham pushed hard in the latter stages with Arsenal replacing Rosicky with Nacho Monreal as they looked to shore up their left flank in response to the regular raids from Kyle Walker. But Wenger's side remained a threat on the counter-attack with Lloris again called upon to rush off his line to deny Walcott after Dawson was robbed near the halfway line.
There was a deflected effort for Wojciech Szczesny to save at the other end but the breakthrough did not come with Spurs' lack of creativity a real concern. While Lamela did look to make things happen, it was perhaps ironic that a day that began with the Sky Sports pundits questioning the 'samey' look of the Arsenal midfield, ended with the balance of the Spurs central trio in the spotlight instead.
"It was a great game for us. We dropped our level technically in the second half but their goalkeeper was their best player. We had plenty of chances. I concede as well that we did hang on in the end because we just wanted to keep the score. Overall it was less goals than usual but still a very interesting derby. I have always praised our spirit and they proved me right today. We know this is a special rivalry. It's three points first but as well a special game for everybody here."
"It was a competitive game with chances for both teams. But the game really changed in the second half. In think for Arsenal to finish with four full-backs means something to us in terms of our domination. We kept trying to get that equaliser. But they had that clinical ability in front of goal to score and then take the result through. There was great spirit from our players to approach the game in such a courageous way in the second half. We showed good determination there and in the end this can help you through the season. To expose Arsenal in this way sets a good example for us but the result goes to them obviously."
"This was a really good game for Arsenal. They spent a lot of time without the ball for an Arsenal team at the Emirates but that actually helped them today. They showed their resilience. The touches that Tottenham had in their box compared to Arsenal tells you that they bossed the game in terms of possession in dangerous areas. But they made Arsenal compact. They weren't stretched out because they had to defend a lot together. They responded well to the challenge in the air and on the ground and they looked threatening on the break."
Hugo Lloris was as good as anyone in the sweeper-keeper role for Tottenham and kept the visitors in the game until the end. Aaron Ramsey also produced a combative performance for the Gunners in a feisty midfield battle. But our man of the match award went to Laurent Koscielny for an assured display at the back in which he succeeded in keeping Roberto Soldado quiet and made more effective clearances (seven) than any player on the pitch.
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