Built up as one of the most important North London derbies of our time, the match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur this weekend did not disappoint.
Wenger, giving Spurs the respect they deserved, lined up with two out-and-out defensive midfielders in Elneny and Coquelin. Ramsey instead of moving out wide to form a 4-2-3-1, took up a position in between the centre and the right of midfield forming a distorted 4-3-3. This way of lining up meant that the play was congested towards the centre and the left of Arsenal’s midfield, leaving the right side free for both the opposing full backs. Wenger’s plan of concentrating the play to one side of the pitch suffered a big blow when Coquelin got sent off. Alexis Sanchez managed to secure a draw late into the match.
How Ramsey’s position affected Spurs
Pochettino’s team love to crowd the centre of the field with their high intensity and pressing, with players like Alli and Dembele thriving this season. Having no natural winger, Spurs’s wide men frequently drift infield creating an overload in the centre of the park. Keeping this in mind, Wenger opted for the extra cover in midfield fielding Elneny along with Coquelin. To prevent being outnumbered in the centre, Ramsey was asked to play a dual role — play in the centre and also provide support on the right side when needed. Arsenal were heavily lopsided defensively. This allowed Rose acres of space to move in on Arsenal’s right. Lamela who was Tottenham’s left sided midfield player failed to take advantage of this, and kept on moving to the centre of the pitch, instead of staying out wide and creating a 2 versus 1 situation with Bellerin. This is exactly what Wenger wanted as Spurs were largely restricted to long range efforts in the first half.
Ramsey’s awkward positioning also helped Arsenal in attack, creating a midfield overload of their own in case Lamela did not follow Ramsey too much infield. This meant that throughout the first half Lamela had a decision to make, whether to move infield or outfield depending which position Ramsey took up. Following Ramsey infield meant that Spurs were in danger of being lopsided themselves, allowing Bellerin to move forward. Ramsey’s positioning had left a void on one side of the pitch which pitted the opposing full-backs against each other. Being the more defensive team, this set-up worked better for Arsenal as when Rose found space down the left, Arsenal had a lot of bodies defensively. But for Spurs, being caught on the counter with space on one side would be deadly, and so it proved to be as Bellerin squared for Ramsey to put Arsenal one nil up.
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What the red card meant for Arsenal
Coquelin was given his marching orders in the 55th min. Buoyed by the red card, Spurs raced into the lead in a matter of 7 minutes. Arsenal were forced into a change of shape with Ramsey partnering Elneny in the centre. Ozil, who is not known for his defensive capabilities, was moved to the right of midfield. The space on Tottenham’s left hand side became even more prominent as they looked to the extend the lead with Kane, Alli and Eriken all going close. Arsenal managed to get the lucky break when Sanchez passed the ball into the net brilliantly against the run of play.
The Gunners managed to stifle Spurs brilliantly up until the red card, with Ramsey shuttling between the right and centre of the park seamlessly. Alli was marshaled brilliantly and Spurs were largely restricted to long range efforts. 11 v 11, Wenger must have thought his side had enough to get all three points.