Arsenal enjoyed the better of the two league games between the North London rivals last season, and will be hoping to add to Tottenham’s poor form in the league. But how does Unai Emery go about masterminding a win over Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham?
Isolate Harry Kane
It seems redundantly obvious but stopping Harry Kane goes a long way to blunting Tottenham in attack. Newcastle managed this superbly in their 1-0 win last weekend with a back three, which forced Pochettino’s side to build up on the wings - they were perfectly happy for Spurs to play around their defensive block - and allowed the Magpies to defend their box with relative ease. Kane had little service, especially with three men around him all the time.
In turn, Kane dropped deeper and deeper to find the ball, meaning that Spurs lacked penetration and a spearhead for their attacks.
Arsenal - especially given their available personnel - may be reluctant to go to three at the back, but they have the midfielders to imitate Newcastle’s low block, with Lucas Torriera and Matteo Guendouzi both hardworking in defence and good enough technically to bring the forward players into play in transition. Borrowing ideas from, if not quite copying, the Geordie blueprint could prove fruitful.
If Arsenal opt for Sead Kolasinac, then a back three will also play to the Bosnian’s strengths as a wing back, where he seems more comfortable than at full back.
Hit Spurs’ flanks in transition
This is something that Arsenal found joy with last season in both league fixtures, and that Newcastle also exploited at the weekend. In the league fixture at the Emirates last season, the Gunners were aggressive in their press and after winning the ball back in midfield moved the ball wide where there was space to attack behind the full backs. In the return fixture at Wembley, they invited Spurs onto them and attacked on the counter where once again there was space for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey to exploit, particularly down the left hand side.
Newcastle took the latter route in their 1-0 win, with Miguel Almiron and Christian Atsu moving from a central position to a wide area when Newcastle won the ball back. They played close to the midfield pairing of Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden, meaning the Magpies could bypass Spurs’ midfield with relative ease at times. Unfortunately much of this counter attacking opportunity went to waste as the visitors failed to get men forward to support the front three.
Emery has shown in his time at Arsenal that he likes to be reactive, rather than proactive, and so allowing Tottenham to open up before hitting them in the wide areas seems entirely in keeping with his tactical approach - see the equaliser in the 4-2 win last season, where Aaron Ramsey found space to run into down the right and set up Aubameyang, who was isolated against Davinson Sanchez in the middle. With the pace of last season’s top scorer and new boy Nicolas Pepe up front, it could be a shrew move.
A positive approach
An alternative - and arguably more positive approach befitting a team at home in a local derby - would be to set up in a 4-3-3 system. Lucas Torreira is yet to start this season but a goalscoring appearance off the bench at Anfield last Saturday suggests he is now ready for a full 90 minutes, and he would be well suited to playing at the base of a midfield three.
This also gives Unai Emery the option of playing a forward thinking midfielder - with two excellent options in Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil - allowing the three forwards to concentrate on getting in behind Tottenham’s defence, rather than creating chances for themselves on the counter. Emery’s preferred system is generally a 4-2-3-1 or variant thereof, and if one of the central midfield players is able to provide an option behind Tottenham’s midfield pivot, it could drag defenders out of position and leave more space for the Gunners to exploit with their pace up front.
With this approach, Ceballos’ dribbling ability and composure when in possession will be key to Arsenal retaining possession high up the pitch and keeping Spurs pinned in their own half - something Emery achieved over large periods of the game in the home fixture last season and could be looking to replicate this time round.
Form is said to go out of the windows in derby games, but the onus is on Arsenal to make use of their home advantage and take the game to a Tottenham side that looks frail and have only taken 15 points from their last 15 league games. That said, Tottenham may relish the opportunity to counter in the wide areas with the pace of Son Heung-Min, and have proved toothless when forced to build patiently around a low block. Arsenal have the personnel to approach the game in various ways - the key will be in the execution.