Tottenham is the enemy. Always has been; always will be. It will take sustained success as well as actual trophies in their cabinet, however, before there can be a sensible conversation about a “power shift”.
That being said, it’s not against the rules to respect your enemy and see things from its perspective. I would argue that it’s healthy and in the best interest of Arsenal Football Club to pay close attention to what Tottenham has come to embody and respect the fact that it is our antithesis.
There are lessons to be learned from recent meetings with “The Scum”. Embracing “the dark arts”, physicality combined with athleticism, and clearly defined roles have been instilled since Pochettino has taken over. Whether directly or indirectly, these ideals stand in stark contrast to what Arsenal has come to embody over the years. It is now our turn to take initiative and alter our principles.
The Dark Arts
Unlike many other English clubs and top European sides, Arsenal rarely accentuates or looks to initiate contact in the penalty area. The exploits of Kane, Dembele, Alli and others have proven that Spurs embrace these “dark arts” for the benefit of the team. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are strategically practiced due to how effectively they win borderline decisions. By no means am I endorsing cheating and blatant diving, but Arsenal could benefit from learning to sell a foul more convincingly. We’ve been too nice for too long and have little to show for it.
Two games this season and Tottenham were issued two debatable penalties in each. The first where Dembele goes down very easily from minimal Koscielny contact. This cost Arsenal three points in November at the Emirates.
The second was on Sunday with Kane, where I still can’t tell if initial contact was made. Gabriel’s erratic challenge is mostly to blame as his extended leg made the situation look clumsy to the eye and Kane initiated the contact from there. I can remember very few times since the days of Pires when one of our players earned us this kind of call.
Physical Play Combined with Athleticism
Gone are the days of Petit, Vieira, Gilberto, or even a Parlour-type in the center of the pitch. Arsenal has gravitated towards technicality in a league that doesn’t embrace it. Conversely, Tottenham has embodied an “Englishness” and has reaped the rewards domestically in the past few seasons. The likes of Dier, Wanyama, and Alli lack on-the-ball brilliance but they have power and endurance in droves. Their fullbacks, generally assessed as average talents under previous regimes, can run up and down the flanks as well as get stuck in.
Arsenal has recruited a different type of player over the last 10 seasons. It has looked for smaller playmakers and worked with them to enhance their comfort in tight quarters and ability to maintain possession. Take Granit Xhaka for example. He stands 6’1” (1.85 meters) but struggles to cover ground and exert physicality. Some argue Coquelin is a physical “destroyer” that breaks up play and is tough in the tackle. I feel he is a more finesse ball-winner in his ability to read oppositional patterns leading to interceptions and recovering 2nd/3rd balls. It’s time for Arsenal to find a balance between physicality and technicality in the center of the pitch.
Clearly Defined Roles
It’s been evident watching Tottenham over the last few seasons that it has clarity in its footballing identity. The players are well-drilled in Pochettino’s system. The 4-2-3-1 can adapt into a 3-4-2-1, always providing a stable platform for its front 3 to express themselves. Furthermore, its fullbacks are able to get forward often because the presence of holding midfielders (usually Wanyama and Dembele) provide adequate cover along with the opposite fullback.
Off the ball, the front 3 close space and prevent opposing teams from passing through the lines. As a result, the opposition is generally forced to play wide or with direct long-balls. Its physical CB’s constantly win aerials and thrive in these types of battles.
So often over the last few seasons Arsenal has had difficulty keeping a shape both on and off the ball. This has to be a result of players not receiving adequate coaching and/or being unsure of their respective roles. Before we can get back to free-flowing football of the early- to mid-00s, maybe we need a sustained spell of defined player roles to ensure some element of stability. Getting back to basics might just re-establish our identity.
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