Tottenham's Midfield Did Little to Prove They're AVB's Best Lineup vs. Arsenal

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Tottenham's Midfield Did Little to Prove They're AVB's Best Lineup vs. Arsenal
Clive Mason/Getty Images

BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pat Nevin was pretty well on song in describing Tottenham’s attack against Arsenal on Sunday. For those of a Lilywhite persuasion, the lines Nevin delivered did little to soothe the masses during the match.

Late in the match and afterwards, Nevin pointed out a glaring point that has been very obvious for the opening three Premier League matches Spurs have played.

From the BBC Sport Live Text:

Tottenham haven't threatened Arsenal's goal enough over course of the game. There is no movement from Spurs up front - they are just too static in attack.

They've had to chase, had to fight, but Arsenal deserve that. Tottenham were a little bit one-dimensional in the play and need something a bit more creative in there. All the top teams have got those players who can offer a bit of spark, but Spurs didn't have that today.

In the opening three matches, Andre Villas-Boas has utilized Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Mousa Dembele in the midfield. In each match, Tottenham have failed to really create much of anything in the attacking sense.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Sure, Spurs had looks in the matches against Swansea and Crystal Palace. But much like last term, there is a chasm between dominating possession and creating genuine chances on the attack.

Substituting Sandro for Capoue, the midfield trio is doing everything to prove right a point made some time ago: picking that midfield setup does not give Tottenham a balanced approach.

At the time, there was still an impression that Gareth Bale was likely to be in the squad. There are certain changes that have to be assumed but the balance of the squad is still horribly askew.

The biggest issue that has come up so far, in accordance with Nevin’s first point, is that Spurs are horribly static.

Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli were attached to their flanks almost the entire time. Without offering a change of starting position—like, say, to the interior—Tottenham made it very easy for Arsenal to defend.

Spurs were at their most threatening when Townsend was on the charge and able to come inside. It was a zone that the hosts were not defending because...well...there was no one to defend.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

When forced outside, both Chadli and Townsend were far less effective, primarily because Roberto Soldado was not going to out-jump Laurent Koscielny, let alone Per Mertesacker.

In fact, aiming at Soldado for any reason in the air was simply indefensible as Mertesacker was draped over the Spaniard almost anytime the ball was in the air.

Going back to the interior for a moment, Soldado was entirely isolated, a point noted by Sam Tighe during halftime of the match:

The isolation is due to the fact that neither Paulinho nor Dembele are getting anywhere close to the 18-yard box, leaving a massive chasm between Soldado and anyone else in Tottenham colors.

Remember, Soldado is a poacher, not an aerial threat or holdup player.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see Spurs’ attack look muted at best. With no one to play through in the middle of the attacking zone, the visitors were reduced to lots of long range efforts.

Soldado had one look in the first half but otherwise was given little to work with.

The changes, aside from the enforced substitution of Capoue in the second half, were unhelpful at best.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Dembele was expendable, as, for the third game on the bounce, his offensive contribution was negligible.

Replacing the Belgian with Jermain Defoe was, however, mystifying. Two forwards who could be out-muscled and still no one in the middle to play through was not going to change the outcome.

Taking off Townsend for Erik Lamela was a rather unfortunate introduction to life in North London for the Argentine. Not only had Spurs removed their best attacking weapon, they had not changed anything within the formation.

Villas-Boas said after the match something that caught the attention and not necessarily in a good way.

From the BBC Sport Live Text:

It was a competitive game, we both had chances. It really changed in the second half. For them to finish with four full-backs says much about our domination.

[...]

That they finished with four full-backs on the pitch at the end shows how much they wanted to hang on to the result.

A palm-to-face comment set if there ever was one. Wenger saw where the danger was coming from and adjusted accordingly. Villas-Boas did not.

By not forcing Arsenal to defend the middle of their defensive third, the Gunners could shift the entire midfield from one side to the other. Spurs, who looked strong down the wings in the first half, could not find the same level of success later because the hosts did not pay any attention to the central midfield.

It was a predicament that cried out for Tottenham’s other major Friday acquisition, Christen Eriksen, to be available. The creative play of the now-former Ajax man would have been a welcome addition to the attack.

Though it is an improvement over the last two outings at the Emirates, 1-0 could have been a much better scoreline. For Tottenham, there is plenty to mull over during the next two weeks.

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