Misguided Tottenham tactics paved the way for Arsenal’s progression

Tottenham barely threatened Arsenal in their 2-0 FA Cup defeat despite enjoying more of the ball. Brendon Netto holds their system accountable for their ineffective display.
 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | England
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Leading up to Arsenal’s FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur, the 4-4-2 formation that has rejuvenated Spurs under Tim Sherwood was understandably one of the main talking points and even more so in the aftermath as the Gunners cruised to a 2-0 victory.

Sherwood stuck to his guns at the Emirates Stadium by deploying a two-man central midfield of Moussa Dembele and the impressive but inexperienced Nabil Bentaleb. At first glance, the popular possession statistics and attempts at goal suggest that Spurs held their own in midfield but anyone who watched the game would say otherwise.

The visitor’s enjoyed 55% of possession and a lot of it in Arsenal’s half but failed to create any clear-cut openings apart from Christian Eriksen’s early effort that was saved at the near post by Lukasz Fabianski. Meanwhile, the hosts looked threatening every time they broke forward and perhaps should have scored more.

Spurs had more possession but Arsenal did more with the ball

Arsenal seemed to carve Spurs open with ease in what was a relatively one-sided affair. When the Gunners won possession, one pass was often all it took to bypass Tottenham’s midfield. They consistently found themselves in great attacking situations against the visiting back four who were left exposed.

Sherwood’s decision to play 4-4-2 is commendable as it was in keeping with a new found sense of positivity and aggression from Spurs this season. The system helped them play with more fluidity in recent times and following the monotonous displays under Andre Villas-Boas of late, a change was due. However on this occasion, that ambition to play attacking football may have been a tad misguided.

The formation wasn’t as much to blame as the application of it. A 4-4-2 system even against the might of Arsenal’s exquisite midfield this season is not necessarily doomed to fail but it would have to be a lot more compact than the one Spurs employed.

Spurs left a huge gap between midfield & defense

If there’s one thing you deny Arsenal’s clever midfielders, perhaps even more than the ball, it’s space. They can exploit it to devastating effect and unfortunately that’s exactly what Spurs served them on a silver platter, and plenty of it.

Neither Dembele nor Bentaleb assumed the role of the deeper lying central midfielder and so the space between the midfield and defense was massive. Arsenal duly took advantage of that gaping hole in Tottenham’s armour at every opportunity to break forward. When your defensive third is the most vacant area on the pitch, you’re asking for trouble.

When Sherwood led his side to victory at Old Trafford recently, they played a 4-4-2 formation on that occasion as well but at least the presence of the defensive-minded Etienne Capoue in midfield meant that there was some protection for the back four.

Marauding full-backs left space in behind

To further compound their problems at the back, their full-backs showed no signs of restraint as they surged forward at will, leaving acres of space behind them. For the opening goal, Kyle Walker was nowhere in sight as Santi Cazorla had all the time in the world on the left hand-side to pick his spot and drill his effort into the far corner.

On the other hand, credit must be given to Arsenal as well who were on top form and delivered one of their best performances this season despite missing the likes of Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey while starting without Mesut Ozil. 

Arsenal were in fine form

The two goal scorers on the night, Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky were sensational, the latter in particular running the show in the final third and visibly returning to the kind of form he enjoyed when he came back from injury in the second half of the 2011-12 season and helped Arsenal to a fourth place finish.

Ultimately, the gulf in class was evident on the night but perhaps a slightly more cautious approach may have made it a closer contest. Instead, it was Arsenal who reigned supreme in north London once more while another Tottenham manager was left scratching his head after his first taste of the famed derby at the helm.

Was Tottenham's system to blame? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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