Distribution, Ramsey and Debuchy: 3 Key Things from Arsenal’s Win over Spurs

Matthieu-Flamini-and-Mathieu-Debuchy

Throughout an even encounter at White Hart Lane, Mathieu Flamini struck twice to give Arsenal a 2-1 win, in the Capital One Cup, over bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur. For Arsene Wenger, this may not have been football at its artistic best, but after watching his much-maligned side show plenty of backbone to come out on top, the Frenchman would have been happy with the team’s resiliency on the night.

Starting with Tottenham’s targeting of Gunners’ right-back Mathieu Debuchy, here are three key things that decided the contest:

1. Tottenham aim to exploit Debuchy

In recent times, the emergence of Hector Bellerin has seen a shift in Arsenal’s right-back situation. In the wake of Bacary Sagna’s departure, it was thought that France international Debuchy would be the man to take over, but due to a combination of injury and the accelerated progression of Bellerin, things have worked out rather differently.

For Debuchy, of course, this has meant a limited amount of playing time, and while others in the squad, such as Flamini, showed an ability to step in and perform without the requisite level of match fitness, the ex-Newcastle fullback struggled to do the same.

Tottenham must have anticipated this in the lead-up to the match, as instead of more evenly distributing their origin of attack, they opted to pepper their left-hand side in a bid to test the rusty Debuchy. Indeed, a staggering 43% of their attacks were funnelled down that side of the field, and although the 30-year-old coped to some degree, completing six tackles and four interceptions in the process, Tottenham’s unyielding pressure eventually took its toll.

In simple terms, Spurs aimed to suck Debuchy out of position. When the player on the left wing, either Nacer Chadli or Christian Eriksen, came infield, the Frenchman would almost invariably follow. In that sense Debuchy liked to stick tightly to his direct opponent, and though this isn’t a bad strategy in itself, it allowed Danny Rose, Tottenham’s left-back, plenty of space in which to power forward.

He made use of it as well. Rose’s first major involvement in attack was a dangerous cross, hung up at the back post, and soon after he cut inside a recovering Debuchy to shoot at goal. Then, again in the first half, Rose latched onto a lofted diagonal, which he controlled well. Debuchy tried his best to get across to challenge his adversary, but after arriving late on the scene and clattering Rose, offered little more than a mistimed challenge.

Debuchy was booked on this occasion, and in many ways, the second half didn’t get much easier for him. He was often caught upfield after pouring forward into attack, while in the build-up to Tottenham’s 56th minute equaliser, Chadli turned the out-of-practice defender to put in a cross, one which Calum Chambers would lamentably deflect into the back of his own net.

Earlier on in the season, Debuchy reflected that, “To be effective on the field, you need game time.” And if ever there was an occasion to prove it, it was his Wednesday night outing at White Hart Lane. Through a combination of fatigue and a lack of match sharpness, he found it difficult to deal with Tottenham’s bombardment of his side of the field.

In some ways, though, he needs to be commended for the way he stuck to the task, and after two games in quick succession, the other having been in Croatia against Dinamo Zagreb, Debuchy may now be in a position to finally recover his form.

2. Tottenham find it tough to play out from defence

Until Arsenal scored and subsequently decided to sit off, their pressing game troubled Tottenham’s centre-back pairing of Federico Fazio and Kevin Wimmer. The two defenders often hit the ball long early on in the game, largely due to both Arsenal’s energetic closing down through midfield and Aaron Ramsey’s energy higher up the pitch. They were therefore forced into a number of decisions under immense pressure, and although Eric Dier often dropped deep to provide an additional option, Fazio and Wimmer were nonetheless uncomfortable.

The most obvious example of this came in the lead-up to Arsenal’s opener, where Wimmer’s scuffed clearance made its way to Ramsey, whose pass then kick-started the move from which Flamini slammed home his first of the evening. But in fairness to Wimmer, he wasn’t the only one at fault on matchday. Fazio also looked like a reluctant ball-playing defender, and his appalling pass towards the end of the first half, which allowed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to drive forward and shoot on goal, provided a clear illustration of Tottenham’s difficulties in defence.

Substitute Son Hueng-Min also lost out to Kieran Gibbs just before Flamini scored the winner, and again, it was the result of a poorly thought out pass, although Dier was the culprit here.

This latest turnover occurred well inside Arsenal’s attacking half, and in many ways, Tottenham’s inability to compose themselves in the face of pressure, especially in defence, cost them the chance to secure a more positive outcome in front of their home fans.

3. Ramsey a viable alternative at No 10

Ramsey may not possess Mesut Ozil’s polish in possession, nor does he have the kind of subtlety to consistently unlock a deep-lying defence, but that doesn’t mean he is incapable of operating as a No 10. In contrast, he played the role extremely well against Tottenham, combining his energy and forward-thinking passing game to good effect.

In particular, it was his passing that really stood out. He created four goal-scoring opportunities on Wednesday night, and in the build-up to the Gunners’ opener, too, he fizzed a neat vertical ball into the path of Olivier Giroud.

Of course, Ramsey’s ability to play these killer balls is also something of a downside for his prospects as an attacking midfielder, in that it occasionally makes him too adventurous, too keen to impose himself upon the contest when a simpler pass may be preferable. Still, the fact that he can complete these kinds of passes is impressive, and when his incisive distribution is combined with his powerful running on the counter-attack, there is a lot to like about his game in a more advanced role.

His movement across the front line is also good, and, in opposition to the more languid Ozil, his hard-working approach to both pressing and defending shines through. All of this, in conjunction, means that Wenger has a viable alternative to Ozil. In the Welshman, he has a player who provides more directness and a greater application off the ball, and in matches against more dominant outfits, Ramsey’s presence could be an important one.

In all likelihood, Ozil will continue on as Arsenal’s No 10 and Ramsey will revert to the right flank, but as a manager who loves versatility in the final third, these sorts of performances from Ramsey will be a source of happiness for Wenger.

Conclusion

This was an even game, and one which was decided by some fortunate goals. In Tottenham’s case, Pochettino referred to both of Arsenal’s goals as “a bit lucky,” while from Wenger’s perspective, the Gunners were “unlucky to concede an own goal.”

Crucially for Arsenal, however, they found the “resources,” as their manager put it, to score a second, and it was that kind of resiliency which eventually won Arsenal the match. They mightn’t have been at their most fluent, but they defended stoically and pounced upon the opportunities that were presented to them.

Spurs, in contrast, were fairly sloppy when playing out from defence, and while Pochettino may be ruing the good fortune attached to Arsenal’s two goals, it should be noted that in both instances Tottenham turned the ball over in the build-up. “We made some mistakes,” Pochettino asserted, “but this is football.”

It’s also football when the opposition, and particularly a most unexpected source, in Flamini, take advantage of those mistakes. And for that reason, together with a strong defensive showing, it was the red side of North London that came out on top this time around.