Arsenal’s lack of movement fails to break down determined Spurs defence

Arsenal once again fell foul to their old habits of failing to break a down deep and determined defence as Spurs’ rearguard action ensured they put an end to Arsenal’s title hopes.

The early post mortem results are in for this season and there is one name that dominates the answers: Robin van Persie. Of course it is purely hypothetical to assume where Arsenal would have been had they had a fit van Persie for most of the season but the way he “transformed” Arsenal according to Arsene Wenger and gave the side an efficiency in possession that they were missing, speaks volumes of his influence to Arsenal’s style. Thought to be the vital cog in the changing mechanism of the side, van Persie’s movement creates space for others in the 4-3-3 while his ability to get behind gives greater variety to play.

His immediate introduction brought a great save from Heurelho Gomes, getting on to a chipped pass from Abou Diaby and expertly volleying a shot which was fantastically stopped by the Brazilian. And his movement helped create the first goal, dropping into the space between the midfield and defence to feed a ball for Walcott to cross in low for Bendtner. It was an urgency and penetration that was greatly missing from Arsenal, that van Persie brought  to the game and with that defeat, surely brings about an end to Arsenal’s title dream.

Ultimately this was a season of learning – seemingly the perennial excuse  – but encouragingly, certain players have made big strides to ensure Arsenal can mount a serious challenge on all fronts next campaign. However, despite those improvements, the Gunners fell foul to their old habits of failing to break down a determined and organised Tottenham defence. Wenger’s idea of playing one dynamic winger on one flank and one half-winger on the other fell flat also – Emmanuel Eboue and Tomas Rosicky were essentially the latter meaning it was all about control and despite monopolising possession, a lack of movement made it all very easy for Spurs to defend. They were very compact and disciplined – as typified by Luka Modric who reigned in as much of his attacking tendencies to play a great box-to-box covering role, making 5 interceptions and 11 attempted tackles.

Calls of signing a new defender have been justified although Sol Campbell put in a performance as good as anyone on the pitch. He would have been disappointed with how the second went in, especially being after the restart but his calmness and pace, kept the Spurs strikers at bay for most of the game.

Rosicky had a busy first-half and Wenger tried to get more out of his Czech Maestro by moving him to the right for the ineffective Eboue but being his job as a wide forward to also get behind, Rosicky went about searching for the crucial killer ball that no-one wanted to receive. Eboue’s poor showing displayed once again his inability to play in front of Bakary Sagna with the Ivorian being to the type of player who thrives on movement to make late driving runs instead of starting the moves for someone else. The Gunner’s liking to playing short, neat passes compromised their ability to get behind and many moves were easily anticipated because of the lack of movement. Decision-making also took a hit but that may be linked to the unwillingness to make runs beyond the Spur’s backline.

As it was, it was van Persie’s introduction, along with Theo Walcott’s directness that seemed to change Arsenal’s mentality and nearly inspired a comeback. The switch to a 4-4-2 was necessary and finally allowed Nicklas Bendtner some room to play off a team-mate but with Gomes making a series of fantastic saves, ended any hopes of Arsenal adding any silverware this season.

Tottenham’s total interceptions of 33, all in their own half, displays their compactness and determination to stop Arsenal from creating chances. It also highlights the lack of movement from the Gunners, making it easy for Spurs to anticipate passing moves.


26 thoughts on “Arsenal’s lack of movement fails to break down determined Spurs defence

  1. All the regular players are tired and with no ready made substitutes available ,that,s what happens especially in defence with Silvesrte plain and simple way past his sell by date.

  2. Hi Brain.

    Was it vaguely reassuring that the sp*ds had to mimic the tactics of Brum & friends in order to compete? (Brum in ca$h flow problems today? Did they miss a visit to the laundrette?)

    The sp*ds played like Hull last season, with Rose/Modric in the Geovanni ‘Joker’ role (this season Hull didn’t even bother with such ambition).

    Rose won’t score many goals like that, Zidane didn’t.

    Like Maria on ACLF pointed out during the game, there was a great Cesc sized hole in front the Totts CB’s. I thought Nasri sat ‘too deep’?

    All those bemoaning the ‘French’ players, and ‘weak, small players’, won’t think of Ramsey, and his possible role last night. Maybe Merida will get a run out now in some of the remaining games.

    And another comment I read bemoaned the lack of understanding so many injuries have led to. e.g. a couple of misunderstandings between two players who can & do link so well, TW14 and Diaby.

    For me, as far as I understand it, Pure Pace is an essential ingredient in order to break down such defensive counter attacking tactics. + two mobile CB’s breaking out. Sol was still MOTM for me, and more mobile then most. The tackle on Bale near the end, immense.
    I don’t think it’ll be possible to mimic the way Barca’s forwards play in the PL, for various reasons, not least the sight of cartilidge in the wrong place. I dont think it’s the intention either, similar, but different.

    We’ll find out over the next two seasons.

    And for the record, after Sol’s arrival, I think MS is our 6th choice CB.


    I hope Djourou can be rushed back like RVP.
    And like RVP was last night, like OleGunner wished, I hope Djourou’s ‘hungry’.

    1. Djourou, having listened and read what he’s said, seems very hungry. He could play some part also this season but it seems unlikely.

      Regarding that Cesc size hole, I think Spurs made it had for Arsenal to operate there by defending in two banks of four, with the middle two very disciplined. Despite that, I felt the Spurs team is susceptible to good movement and that wasn’t provided much. Nasri had 89 passes, not many of them penetrative.

      I think you are right also that Arsenal can’t be expected to play like Barcelona and Wenger doesn’t want them to exactly. What he wants is a quicker version – in the passing and dynamism.

      It was a below-par performance yesterday against not the best Spurs side – quite overrated in fact – but the guys need to find answers against such teams.

    2. I really hope Wenger takes this chance to give Merida, Vela and possibly Eastmond some games.
      Merida is absolute quality and I’d hate to see him sign elsewhere because he wasn’t given games, it was understandable when we theoretically stood a chance at the title but not now, especially with all the injuries.
      I said a while back that I thought Diaby lacked intelligence and while he had a brief run of competent form around January/February, he’s looked utterly lazy and incompetent in the past few games (same old Diaby) with his poor passing, pointless dribbles into poor positions and shirking of defensive responsibility. For a guy with such a physical body and presence you’d never imagine him getting muscled off the ball by lightweight Modric.
      When Denilson came off we actually lost control of the game for about 10 minutes because Diaby was ambling about up field as if he was a striker or ’10’. The guy drives me absolutely nuts.

      1. If Denilson hadn’t got a knock, I’m not so sure Wenger would have kept Diaby on the pitch. As you say, he relies very much on his physical abilities and overconfidence in his dribbling which stops the flow of attacks. His understanding strikes a cord with some of the other players, although to a more frustrating extent.
        Wenger clearly likes to present great trust and capacity to produce the unpredictable but at times they do seem to need a bit of guidance to overcome problems. Is it realistic to always say they should learn this with time, considering the progression of younger players on other teams?

        1. Sometimes I get the feeling that Wenger hasn’t taught a lot of these players any basic tactical understanding at all, let alone more complex stuff and has simply sent them out in the hope they would learn.
          It’s very noticeable when watching the Carling Cup games with the young guns, they are far better at keeping shape, possession, pressing, counter-attacks, direct ball whereas when the “star” players are missing in the first team everyone looks lost.
          I’d say only Campbell/Clichy/Denilson fulfilled their roles vs Spurs, maybe Bendtner too since he was so isolated for so long, until RVP came on.
          Manchester Uniteds youth/reserve players always look considerably weaker when compared with the young guns, but the first team seems capable of playing with constant tactical changes and player replacements (Though they do seem short up front, they’ve been quite lucky to have Rooney fit all season).
          I don’t think a lot of the first team understand the roles of others in the team, let alone their own. For example, we get Song leaving the middle of the pitch empty far too often.

          1. I don’t really know if the players need tactical coaching. Once, Jose Mourinho said that he normally uses 2 formations/systems and he makes sure his team is familiar with it. He drills them during pre-season. Adapting to various positions depends on how versatile a player is. Arsenal players can play at different positions, but they don’t seem to be as effective as they are in their original position.
            What this team really lacks is leadership and character. RVP, is probably the only natural leader in our team. He is a team man and can make things happen. Wenger will point to the last minute goals as a sign of great mental strength, but losing to Man Utd, Chelsea and even Tottenham without posing a fight is not what I call great character.
            We need more players with strong leadership and those who can think on the feet. We need them to analyse the situations fast and produce an alternative.

  3. Its t’s time for some minor surgery I fear:

    Cut out –

    Almunia – great on a few occasions e.g. Barca at the Emirates, but not often enough. We need someone who is great all the time like Wilson, Jennings and Seaman. (Wojciech Szczesny is a better keeper already!)

    Fabianski – too flappy.

    Senderos – enough said

    Sagna – has gone backwards. Oh for a Lauren type no-nonsense player at the back.

    Silvestre – does anybody think he is good enough for Arsenal?

    Traore – another liability!

    Rosicky – injury prone, little penetration, work shy. Has lost he one thing he used to be good at – shots.

    Diaby – too many off days. Plays well one in 6.

    Arshavin – a real luxury. Get 20m for him and I think we could get something better. He’e been living off his quadruple at ‘pool for too long.

    Eduardo – sadly he doesn’t seem to have come back at all from his injury

    Vela – when he is with Arsenal and not Mexico – he comes on and falls over a lot.

    Others that we should keep for backup only:

    Gallas – could be useful as backup but out as often as in.

    Campbell – is superb but at his age is suitable for backup only

    Djourou – really good player but made of glass. Let him prove he can stay injury free, if not offload.

    Denilson – useful squad player, not 1st team

    And the good points: Cesc gets better every year, Song has been awesome, Nasri will come good too, Ramsey, Wilshere next year, Eboue is very direct, Bendy is a useful alternative (but Chamakh could sideline him).

  4. your graphic shows just 4 interceptions in our half – and I expect no 25 was the pass from Silvestre.

  5. Spurs set out to defend, but we have to be able to deal with that. At the moment we only have real pace down the right side.
    Our biggest problem has been conceding very soft goals..4 of the last 8 infact! (2 from Ibranavich at Emirates, one from Messi at Nou Camp & Spurs 2nd yesterday).

  6. I’ll just post AW’s own words:

    “Sol was one of our better players. He has shown the way to some players. What a winner he is. He showed what you need if you want to win titles. He deserves a lot of credit because he turned up with a real performance.”

    Amen to that.

    Injuries yesterday were entirely irrelevant because Spurs had injuries too. And Diaby, Denilson, Sagna, et al. are good enuf to beat a Spurs squad carrying injuries. Esp. after we had an 8-day rest while they had a far shorter one — after an exhausting game on a horrible pitch and a devastating loss.

    I’ve been expecting a loss at WHL for some time and I had a bad feeling about yesterday, so I’m not entirely surprised. We haven’t done very well there in our previous 9 games (only 2 wins).

    Credit to spurs, they earned it.

  7. Good analysis, as ever 😀

    Without Walcott, Arshavin, or even Vela, our wide play is always one-dimensional and predictable, and we’re left with little in the way of attacking threat in behind.

    As you say, neither Rosicky nor Eboue are natural wingers/wing-forwards, and as such, they have a tendency to come inside and converge with the central players of the side – congesting play.

    In Bendtner, we have a very talented forward, but one who doesn’t seem comfortable playing as the lone striker in a 433 – irrespective of his recent purple patch.
    His propensity to pull out wide, chase the ball back into midfield, and/or stand behind the opposition defensive line leaves us with little in the way of an attacking outlet, which is why the ball was always played sideways yesterday.
    He seems far more comfortable in a 442, where his flick-ons can be retrieved by an onrunning strike-partner, whilst the presence of another forward gives him the freedom to roam the pitch as he wishes.

    In the centre of midfield, we have attacking talent in abundance, but we Diaby and Nasri have been lethargic in terms of tracking back as of late, whilst Denilson, as highly as I rate him, doesn’t seem comfortably pressing the opposition.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that in spite of a huge amount of talent in our side, unless Van Persie, Walcott, and Song are fully fit, we lack any sort of balance in our play.

    I think we may need to trim the squad next year, and focus on bringing in players that suit the 433 formation; although with recent contract renewals, I don’t know if this will happen.

  8. It wasn’t a Cesc sized hole that was missing, it was a SONG sized hole that meant we got bullied and harried throughout.

    We were lucky Palacious was suspended coz it would have been a rout.

  9. Not sure trimming the squad will do us any favours!

    Depending on how Sol recovers for Sunday we could see a youth/reserve CB lining up against Wigan.

    At the start of the season I still thought we needed another striker and CB. Wenger kept saying he had a big squad but he has to plan for injuries now. We have av of 6 out every week!

    Sure chamakh will come in I have a feeling it will be for Arshavin

  10. I’ve finally calmed down and gathered my thoughts on that performance. I still do think that this season, the biggest acquisition we could get, is a coach that helps Wenger tactically and how to read a game. We never ever seem to be proactive against the bigger teams in the big matches, instead we try react, and against big teams, there is little time to react.

    1) We played a possession game, and yet we could see that Spurs had closed all the doors, why did we not alter the game for a while such as pushing one of our full backs more forward that would allow one of Diaby or Nasri to get into the box more and get into more advanced positions?

    2) Only after we had two strikers on the pitch, did we look really in business and the spaces opened up, if Wenger read what Spurs were doing, he could have tried that, putting Diaby behind Bendtner for a while to open the game up for us.

    3) I always keep barking about it, but our defensive line is way too high, especially when you have players that barely play and are getting into the rhythm, like Silvestre and Campbell, expecting them to mirror what Sagna and Clichy do is asking too much. We need to play it safe, sit a bit deeper so that any ball that goes in behind them, Almunia (in theory) should sweep up.

    4) Our midfield needs to step their game up, a bit similar to the match against Sunderland last season where Song and Denilson gave a clinic in how to pass sideways and not be ambitious, and they needed Fabregas to tell them that they represent a big club that demands passing with animation, thes players on Wednesday need to be told the same. Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, 3 players couldn’t do anything than pass sideways, a long ball is okay if there is no space in the middle.

    5) Something we need to rectify, realising the situation and living to it. That was essentially a championship deciding game, and we never played like it was, we took it easy and never went up gears. It doesn’t matter if we had many injuries, that was the ideal opportunity for the likes of Diaby and Nasri and Rosicky to drag the team and show they should be automatic choices, they have talent,they should not waste it.

  11. i think it s was plain simple we are missing a player who can carry the ball very fast to the front,player who can accelerate the game.We don’t have raw pace except Theo but he cannot use it and Clichy who is a LWB.This is why we ve get beaten by stronger team,we don’t have really have skillful speedy player out wide.So we cannot outrun them when we get back the ball ,so we pass,pass,pass,pass,pass, pass,psss….and the opposite team get back ,set up a wall in front of us and we pas,pass,pass,pass,pas,psss.Without cecs,van persie or very rare magic moment of Arshavin we crash against against much better defence.Against the spud,if Pires and Ljungberg were playing out wide we would have won by 6-7 goal because they could carry the ball quickly up front and support Bendy.But we don’t :(.Even with some decent winger like A.Young,Ben Arfa,even Lennon(yes i know that bad ) would have been enough

    1. Arsenal have been better this season in breaking down deep defending teams as they’ve had some variety (i.e. one dynamic side – usually the right and a half-winger on the left). This game was surprising as I would definitely went for Eduardo on the left to get behind the defence. Walcott, showed, although playing better because of RVP’s introduction what some directness can give to a team.

    2. Spot on, just look at when RvP did that magic turn and great pass to Bendtner. Niklas was left utterly isolated, despite his touch and technique being regularly criticised he controlled and moved forward well he just had no support at all.

  12. i would have prefer Vela on the right (pace and lot of skill) than 1/2 of rosicky who play the last few macth. WTF Wenger doing with our Mexican maestro.Against the spud we should have play(with the player available)4-4-2 with Vela-Diaby-Nasri-Theo in Midd Eduardo-Bendy in front with Van the Man coming in the 2nd half.
    But now too late ,Wigan next 😉

    1. For Wigan I’d line up:
      Eboue – Sagna (Campbell is surely too tired) – Silvestre – Traore
      Eastmond (Denilson/Song out)
      Merida – Diaby
      Vela – RvP – Nasri
      Subs: Walcott (Vela), Bendtner (RvP and possibly Eduardo (Merida) if the game is going awry
      I’d like to see some of these guys get a go and we need to keep players fresh for Manchester City now as we can’t afford to lose that one.

  13. I have to agree with most of the above. The overall performance seemed lackadaisical and disjointed and lacked the effort to match the occasion. Possession was not converted into goals and Sol was trying to showing by example what it means to fight for a championship. My immediate disappointment at this loss was massive, bordering on disgust and contempt. Upon further reflection, the result wasn’t too surprising.
    Firstly, and I know people hate to hear this, the team is young. Some players, like Cesc, have an innate understanding of the effort and commitment required to be champions. Truthfully, the vast majority, even at the rarified heights of top flight professional football, don’t. They have to be taught. This team has sorely missed veteran leaders who can teach them this. It’s seems to be one of Wenger’s blind spots in that he undervalues that intangible quality present in the over-30 player. Instead of learning these things from veteran players who have done this before, a la Sol, this team must learn it on the fly through trial and error. They will learn, it’ll just take longer and we will suffer the growing pains with them. At ManIOU, Giggs and Scholes can inculcate the Man U culture and experience to the next generation of players. Who can are players look to for similar wisdom?
    Second, and again I know people don’t want to hear this, but injuries played a massive role. Who are Arsenal’s most important, creative offensive players? Cesc, RvP, and Arshavin. You can’t just plug in Nasri for Cesc, Bendtner for RvP, and Rosicky for Arshavin and say viola, the team should function just as well. The reason the latter players don’t normally start is that Cesc, RvP and Arshavin are SIMPLY BETTER PLAYERS. And I don’t mean to demean them by stating the obvious as I rate Nasri, Bendtner and Rosicky as good players, but those others are world class and a cut above. Who are Arsenal’s best defenders? Gallas, Verminator, and Song. And our nominal third best central defender, Djourou, has been out. Again, does anyone really believe that substituting those players will result in a defense just as good as when those players are available?
    So a team which was shorn of arguably the TOP SIX players on Arsene’s team sheet and lacking in (long-term) veteran leadership goes into a hostile environment against a current top 5 side and pretty much blows it? As painful as it is to think, is that really a surprise? However, I remain optimistic. As disappointed as I am that another year more than likely ends without a trophy, I’ve seen enough to believe that with a few tweaks, both personnel and tactics wise, this team will push on through and is very close to winning the first of a few trophies.

  14. We need to stop saying it s a young team as an excuse of our falling apart from the few back up they all are full Internatial .They ve got now few season under the belt.Been young is not anymore an excuse.
    our (if full fit of course)is Big AL
    Sagna Vermi Gallas Clichy
    Eboue/theo Cecs Song Diaby Arshavin
    Van Persie
    All of them have lot of experience and are more or less very important player to their country.Wenger look very diasapointed with some of them who fell to turn up in the big match.our second team too
    Eboue Sol Djourou/Silvestre Gibbs
    Rosicky Denilson Ramsey Nasri
    Exept for Vito/Gibbs/Denilson they all top international in their country so plenty of experence or talent.So even the back up ,we have plenty of experience.

    Only our third team (academy product or hot young prospect can really call young) but most all them are away on loan ,this third team is the real (what the hater/D&G brigade call) youth project
    Hoyte/Gilbert Bartley Ayling Cruise
    Wilshere JET Coquelin Lansbury Nordveit Barazite Eastmond Merida

    Anyway great result and thx the spud….the dream is stilll alive

    1. I respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree that age is not a factor in the current teams shortcomings. Yes, because they are precociously talented and Arsene has given them chances they might not be given at other “big clubs,” our players have a wealth of experience. But no matter how talented, I maintain that, in general, there is a big difference between a 21 to 23 year old versus a 26 to 30 year old in terms of emotional maturity that is difficult to replicate and comes to fore in the pressure packed, so called “big” games. And before someone says Messi is 22 I would add that Xavi, at 30, and Puyol, at 32, lead Barca. And Messi is a singularly brilliant, once a generation type of talent. Why do you think that at the very highest levels of team sports, championship winning teams have veteran players who are the stars or at least play very significant leadership roles? People like to point out that many of our young players are full internationals but do any of them play leadership roles on those international squads? Cesc, our most influential player, can’t push past Xavi. Arshavin, Gallas and RvP are the closest thing to leaders on their respective national squads and they happen to be 28, 32 and 26. And these three were missing, except for RvP’s 20 minute cameo, for this game. Finally, I would cite van Persie as a player who clearly has benefited by becoming more emotionally mature. As talented as he is, he is clearly a better player and more importantly, a better leader, at age 26 than when he was 22. I think, for this reason, re-signing Sol may be as important an offseason addition as any other for this squad.

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