One London derby blurs into the other for Tottenham, as Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs themselves all now operate somewhat similar styles. Comparisons between Spurs and Arsenal have always aggravated fans but the two teams may appear more similar on the pitch than they ever have when they go to battle on Sunday afternoon.
Squeeze the opposition. Win the second ball. Work the ball to work the space. Take a risk. Repeat.
Practice overcame individual talent last weekend when Tottenham utilised an ultra-narrow diamond to cut-off Chelsea’s preferred passing patterns to take advantage of Sarri’s reluctance for his teams to build through his full-backs. Pochettino sat Dele right on top of Jorginho for 90 minutes, suffocating the visitors possession game and creating turnovers in the process.
The underlying issue for Chelsea, just as is the case for Arsenal, is that although the ideas and talent is there those two elements will take more than a few weeks to become at one. Results are largely coming their way but Emery is not seeing his team control the game through counter-pressing as he’d like them to.
Twelve’s Effective Possession chart shows Arsenal’s struggle to possess the game in the opposition half for extended periods of time in their most recent league match.
That newness does present a challenge of unpredictability for opposition sides, however, as Pochettino will have to guess as to whether last weekend’s back three is the beginning of a new phase for Emery or just a one-off experiment. What is likely to remain a constant, though, is Arsenal slowly growing into games and ending strong – likely a deliberate ploy to save themselves in this way but one enabled by their conditioning.
On the topic of fitness, it is tempting to speculate that Spurs have now entered their increasingly famous winter form and fitness; beginning it with a triumphant victory over Chelsea. There are still holes to be filled in the Tottenham side but typically their sheer tempo has proven too much for most challenges over these winter months.
Increased squad depth will no doubt help enable and lengthen that as Tottenham, with no clear and obvious first XI, were able to leave the productive talents of Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura and Harry Winks on the bench against Chelsea, while also taking the return from injury of Jan Vertonghen patiently slow. All of which gives Tottenham plenty of rotation options as they look to balance a midweek clash at home to Inter Milan.
Back in the Premier League, Pochettino will be hoping for more of the same as Arsenal’s recent games against Wolves and Bournemouth demonstrate that they, like Chelsea, can be pressed into error. Their current tendency to leave their defensive line slightly deep and their midfield high, both in and out of possession, can open up dangerous spaces.
Tottenham will be hoping to use their pressing game to push the pace beyond that which Arsenal can cope with but they must be careful in doing so. A few recent north London derbies have seen Spurs let the occasion get to them as they over exert themselves early on and allow Arsenal back into the game in the final minutes. As mentioned before, that late surge has been a theme for Arsenal this season so Pochettino and co. will have to be extra careful in managing this affair.