Arsenal vs Spurs is a razor tight affair when considering the tactical implications of the game. Sure, Arsenal are handicapped with injuries and the game may not even go ahead, but if it does it’ll be an extremely competitive game, regardless of injuries.
Conte’s teams struggle when pressing sides that play with a back four & excel technically. Typically, Conte teams match up in midfield, the outside CB’s pick up the ‘to feet’ players between the lines & the forwards pressurises the oppositions last central line (i.e. the CB’s).
To back that forward line up, Conte needs his wingbacks to be very aggressive by covering a large amount of distance to successfully press the fullbacks in the oppositions last line.
The higher they are, the easier it is for them to press. The deeper they are, the harder it is.
Against Chelsea, Tuchel exploited this pressing mechanism within Conte’s teams. Chelsea build play with high wingbacks but they built with a low back four against Spurs, and they controlled the entirety of the tie as a result of that. Spurs’ wingbacks were too disengaged to press.
Spurs’ wingbacks quite simply couldn’t collapse the play quickly enough in settled situations and Spurs were subsequently forced back into a deep block. This is something Arsenal will exploit Spurs with to gain control of the ball. Tomiyasu/Cedric will invert with Tierney higher.
As such, Arsenal could build around Spurs’ press as a result of that spare man in the build-up. They have a clear 5v3 in the build-up phase (including Ramsdale) with Spurs’ wingbacks unable to press as high as possible due to the high and wide positioning of Martinelli and Saka.
A potential solution for Conte’s men could be to match-up all over the park i.e. Royal pushes high onto Tierney whilst leaving Martinelli to Spurs’ RCB. This would result in a better press, but it is more risky in the sense that if one player is bypassed the block is disfigured.
However, as a result of the man-marking plan being uncharacteristic of Conte who wouldn’t like to take Gasperini or Bielsa-esque risks, I think it’s relatively safe to conclude that Arsenal should have an overload in the build-up which, in theory, should see them force Spurs back.
Arsenal can score when Spurs’ press/mid-block is transitioning into a deeper block with balls from deep into runners in behind, but the more likely occurrence (from a regularity perspective) is them forcing Spurs back into a low block and trying to break them down.
Arsenal excel at breaking teams down thanks to their elite positional play in the final third. They have high quality penetration and chance creation methods (circulation to isolated wide players, combinations on the sides or between the lines, crosses from deep, cutbacks, etc).
However, Spurs excel at blocking space within a deep block due to Conte’s usage of 5 defenders. Arsenal typically aim to circulate play & tire teams out by working the ball from side to side in the hopes of finding Saka/Martinelli/Tierney in isolation but Spurs defend very wide.
As such, Arsenal will need to be on their A game when attempting to break Spurs’ compact low block down, particularly when considering that Spurs also have high quality outlets, even without Son.
Arsenal will also need to be compact in defensive transition to deal with that.
Arsenal must not allow their single pivot (probably Lokonga) to become isolated in defensive transition. Their second phase midfielder is typically a second phase profile (Xhaka or Lokonga himself), but due to unavailability, Smith-Rowe may have to fill in for that position.
This could see Arsenal’s single pivot becoming isolated in defensive transition due to Smith-Rowe’s attacking nature. Arsenal must ensure that one of Smith-Rowe, Tienery or Martinelli is present in central areas in the 2nd phase in case play breaks down so they’re not exposed.
The likes of Lucas Moura and Harry Kane will drift either side of Lokonga and help pick off Arsenal in transition. In the same vein, when Spurs have possession, they will mix between playing long from goal kicks to battle for second balls along with playing out from the back.
Both Arsenal and Spurs can exploit each other within those second ball situations in midfield by winning a duel and exposing the opposition in transition or forcing them back into a low block, but Spurs prefer to play out from the back more often than playing long into midfield.
Subsequently, this is where a number of important implications arrive for both teams. Arsenal won’t have an issue when Spurs have goal kicks and play out from the back they split the goalkeeper with 2 CB’s, so Arsenal can simply match up within their 4-4-2 pressing block.
However, in settled play, problems arise for Arteta’s Arsenal. Arsenal press within a 4-4-2 block but there is a clear numerical advantage for Spurs when building play. Spurs have a 3v2 in the first phase and Saka and Martinelli are left in half positions. They have no clear man.
Pressing against 3 at the back teams has been Arteta’s achilleas heel this season. Arteta has consistently pressed within a 4-4-1-1 type structure which sees Arsenal being overloaded and easily played through once the opposition use their technical quality to find the spare man.
Spurs have this exact build-up structure and will exploit Arsenal in this regard if Arteta doesn’t adapt his pressing structure. A solution is to match-up i.e. keep the inverted right back central, let Martinelli push onto the CB, Saka follows wingback, and Tierney pushes high.
This is something Arteta NEEDS to change otherwise teams like Chelsea/Brighton will consistently force Arsenal’s press back. Even Leicester did it to Arsenal despite Arsenal’s fortunate win on the day. However, Spurs will need to be secure technically to exploit that potential advantage.
The problem with that is the likes of D. Sanchez and Tanganga have not been technically secure as of late. They are prone to making technical errors due to a lack of technical quality. These guys will often be the spare man if Arteta’s doesn’t adapt, so they must be secure.
If they are astute technically, Spurs can force Arsenal back and exploit their narrow 4-4-2 low block with their wide wingbacks and players between the lines or directly in transition after playing through their press. Both of these are major avenues of chance creation for Spurs.
So, that’s the game on paper, and it’s an incredibly competitive and a rather complex one. However, what is very unfortunate is the circumstances surrounding the game. Arsenal have a plethora of injuries to key players. This could further swing the game in Spurs’ favour.
The technical level of Tomiyasu compared to Cedric is like night and day. Balance issues will be caused by no Ødegaard between the lines along with Elneny, Partey and Xhaka being unavailable in midfield. It’s a shame, but the game dynamics remain (if the game goes ahead).
The theme of the game primarily lies in Spurs’ hands, however. Arsenal will likely be technically secure on most occasions to play out of Spurs’ press but the same can’t be said for Spurs. If they are secure, they can potentially exploit Arsenal’s structure & take control away from The Gunners.
As such, overall, when considering all of the game dynamics at hand, I think it’s safe to say that it is a razor tight affair, particularly with Arsenal’s injury woes which harms their capability of controlling crucial facets of play due to qualitative and balance issues.
Spurs are also without Son and although Lucas Moura is a superb outlet, they lack goals outside of Kane. I think gamestate could play a big factor as a result of that – each team lacks their ideal quality to pull the game back from behind despite tactical considerations.