I don’t need to remind anyone what happened to Arsenal last season on away days to clubs with top four or title ambitions. After last season’s embarrassments on away days to their top four rivals, Arsène was criticized for “lacking a plan B”. Well, this season Wenger adopted a plan B and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today, it doesn’t. Erm… didn’t. Not work. Today, Plan B failed.
Arsenal won 2-0 away to Man City playing a defense-counter approach and clearly looked to emulate that same tactic away to Tottenham. The only problem is that Spunks were ready for them and starved Arsenal’s counter attack with a fairly dominant defense and midfield swarm.
The trick to the counter-attacking team is ruthless efficiency. A team sitting back and hitting on the counter has to capitalize on their few attacking chances. So, against Tottenham, Arsenal had 7 shots and 3 were on target. 2 were on target in good areas as well. That’s actually not that bad. Arsenal beat Man City with just 9 shots and three on target. And both matches Arsenal got 2/3 of their shots on target from prime areas. Against City, they converted them. Against Sp*rs, they converted just one.
Stepping back into just final third passes, Arsenal completed 74/109 final third passes against Man City and from those 74 passes created 9 shots, 7 from a teammate’s pass (what we call a “key pass”). Against Sp*rs, Arsenal completed 77/123 passes (pass percentage is less important here than you might think) but only created 7 chances and just 4 key passes.
In very real terms the *attacking* difference in the matches is small; Giroud scored with his header against City, Koscielny did not against Sp*rs.
Defensively, that’s another story.
Arsenal playing deep gave Tottenham’s “full court press” a huge advantage. Sp*rs were able to force Arsenal to turn the ball over 34 times while Arsenal were only able to force Tottenham to lose possession 26 times. Remember that Sp*rs dominated the ball, that number should be reversed: Arsenal should have forced Sp*rs into more turnovers. But worse than just the sheer number of turnovers was the fact that Sp*rs caused 12 Arsenal turnovers in our own half while Arsenal were only able to return the favor 4 times.
Ramsey was the most guilty of all the Arsenal players in terms of turnovers. He had 7 turnovers but worse than the sheer number was the fact that he led Arsenal with 4 turnovers in his own half. Contrast that to Eriksen who also had 7 turnovers but all of them were in the Arsenal half and most of them in very dangerous positions.
I don’t want to be accused of Ramsey bashing (it won’t matter what I say, he will be a touchstone for what went wrong in this match) but it looks like Pochettino took the ball away from Özil and Cazorla and told his team to let Ramsey beat them.
Against City, Cazorla was Arsenal’s man of the match. He led all Arsenal players by completing 54/59 (92%) passes, 18/22 (82%) in the City final third, and created 2 chances including Giroud’s headed goal. Against Sp*rs, Ramsey led all Arsenal players completing 38/54 (70%) and 15/24 (63%) in the final third. Ramsey didn’t create a single shot for a teammate not for himself.
The obvious criticism is to blame Ramsey for “having a ‘mare” but there is a less obvious conclusion: Pochettino got his team tactics right in the second half and the result is that Ramsey was left all alone to create in the midfield and was unable to find an outlet down the wings. As you can see from the tackles chart, Sp*rs were concentrating their defense down the wings.
Wenger tried to counteract that by bringing on Theo Walcott but I think that was the wrong move. At the time I thought Walcott would put pressure on Sp*rs with his speed but it turns out they were set up to cut off Arsenal’s wide play. So having yet another wide player, even though he ostensibly hugged the line, didn’t do anything for Arsenal. In the end Walcott had just 6 touches.
So, despite setting up the same way as they did against Man City, Arsenal struggled to get out of their own half, were inefficient when they did get the ball up field, and lacked firepower off the bench that would enable them to change the game in their favor.
But even despite all that, the match really turned on just two incidents: Ramsey letting Kane ghost behind him on the corner kick for their first goal and Walcott not closing down Benteleb and Koscielny losing an aerial duel on the second. For all the talk this week about a new-found defensive awareness, for all my stats above showing how Sp*rs hemmed us in and kept us quiet, Arsenal were undone by two simple errors.