Arsenal (A) - THE Game of Two Halves


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May 26, 2004
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First half : Out Thought, Out Worked, Out Played (Written at half time)

Rafael van der Vaart said Harry Redknapp was a better manager than two time Champions League Winner Jose Mourinho because he did not spend hours talking tactics. Maybe the one time FA Cup champion should consider introducing tactics to his team, because that kind of naive play today shows why we have failed to win away to any of the top teams.

The first Arsenal goal is a classic example of Tottenham’s absence of a game plan when the team is without the ball. The defence is pushed up as Arsenal win the ball in their back third. Nothing wrong with this if, and only if, you press the ball from the front, restricting the time the opposition have on the ball.

Our strikers and midfield fail to do this. The lack of effort means Arsenal’s defenders can play the ball to Fabregas, playmaker in chief, a player who should not be allowed to get on the ball. But he has, so we close him down quickly before he can do any damage, right? Wrong. That’s not the Tottenham way. We allow the Spaniard to turn, look up, and then play a ball over the top of our high-line defence.

Assou-Ekotto, in a re-run of the incident at the San Siro that led to the Gomes red card and penalty, is too tight to his man and too far from the left sided centre back. Nasri runs into the acres of space, Gomes hardly covers himself in glory (and the Brazilians poor form is a frightening problem) and we are one down.

Time and time and time again, Arsenal pick up the ball and within four seconds are running directly at our defence. Jenas and Modric offer absolutely no cover, at best drifting in a no man’s land and at worse running out of position to close down someone fifty yards from goal when the real danger is on the edge of the penalty area. Compare our defending as a team to Arsenal’s, who press high up the pitch, have Alex Song stood only a couple of yards in front of his defenders, and get very tight and narrow when they are not in possession, and it’s no wonder that they look far more solid.

In the first half Lennon and Bale have failed to get on the ball enough, and the wingers have contributed to our open stance when ‘defending’. If it were not for Gallas and Kaboul the game would be over at half time. Pavlyuchenko is isolated and showing why he is not a top level front man with his inability to hold the ball up, our breaks are too slow, and in general we are stuck in malaise. While Newcastle showed how to win at the Emirates with a solid base, and West Brom were victorious with quick and incisive breaks, Spurs show that just turning up and hoping for the best is a recipe for disaster.

Second half: From Boys To Men (written at full time)

Defoe’s introduction for the anonymous Lennon prompted a high tempo, pressing approach. Switching from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-4-2 is hardly earth shattering and yet it seemed to galvanise our players. Related to the tactic talk of the first post, it’s clear the players are more aware of their roles in the stereotypical 4-4-2. Bale tucked in more, and van der Vaart helped narrow the team and also contributed to the increased pressing of the opposition’s defence.

Check that second half again and count the number of times the Arsenal defence or keeper had to lump the ball forward instead of passing to feet. They turned over possession far more, and when they did try to build up the play we were swarming around them. Kaboul and Gallas continued to excel at the back, while Modric and Jenas were much more involved. Defoe offered an option over the top, and remarkably out jumped the six foot plus centre backs to flick on to van der Vaart, who had drifted in from the right, and played Bale through the inside right channel. Two smart touches later and we were back in the game.

That goal showed how we had changed. The formation could have been an old-school Brazilian 4-2-2-2, and we were looking much livelier. Our better play deserved some luck, and Fabregas was more than happy to provide it.

Gomes redeemed himself with a good save from Fabregas, but our new setup really stunted the Arsenal attack and if one team was going to win it, it was Tottenham.

Bale caused more terror and was fouled for the forty ninth time – this time down on the right hand touch line, again a sign of how we played with greater fluidity and pace in the second half. The free kick came in, Kaboul got the flick on, and ten tense minutes ebbed past before the final whistle and a great derby win.

In conclusion, the team has shown they can beat anyone, anywhere. Our first win at the Emirates, our first win away at Arsenal since 1993. Our first win at the Sky 4 in 60 odd games.

Redknapp deserves credit for making the changes at half time, just as he has to take some responsibility for a really poor first half display. Defoe’s return, and the switch to 4-4-2, makes the team look far more comfortable. The 4-4-1-1 formation away from home still needs a lot of work as it is neither one thing nor the other without a home crowd urging the team on.

Gallas and Kaboul were exceptional throughout the game, Bale and van der Vaart continue to grab the headlines, Defoe’s return was timely, although Lennon’s indifferent performances are worrying. Maybe the classic system of two wingers is still outdated, if not the 4-4-2 setup.

The bottom line is....WE WON!!!