Arsenal's familiar combinations prove decisive against flashy but fragmented Tottenham

Scott Heavey

Santi Cazorla's drifts inside, allowing Theo Walcott higher up the pitch, and the subsequent combination between the two, proved the decisive moment of the North London derby

It was in the midfield zone in which the widely discussed contrast between Arsenal and Tottenham's transfer window was clear. Given how Arsenal have saved their money and Tottenham have splashed the cash, it was appropriate that while Andre Villas-Boas fielded two of his new signings, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue, alongside Mousa Dembélé in a powerful, athletic 4-3-3, Wenger fell back on old faces in electing for the technical trio of Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.

But new is not always better and indeed Arsenal were thankful for the cohesion and familiarity that their lack of movement in the transfer window has not disrupted. With Santi Cazorla drifting inside from the left to become an extra midfielder, and helping overload Spurs numerically in the centre, Arsenal played around Tottenham's mobile midfielders and had the freedom pass incisively through Tottenham's high line, eventually freeing up Theo Walcott to provide the assist for Oliver Giroud's decisive goal. It wasn't an isolated incident, either - Arsenal frequently created overloads between the lines and Cazorla, in particular, thrived on the freedom to pick out passes in behind Tottenham's back four. Walcott, with his pace, relished the service.

The Englishman seems to particularly thrive when Arsenal play with this lopsidedness in attack - with a more creative playmaker dropping into central positions on the opposite side, he has more freedom to move high up the pitch into unusual, but effective, wide forward positions. Cazorla's deeper positioning gives the attack a neat, asymmetrical balance. Walcott's aggressive positioning effectively gives Arsenal an extra striker in attack, and his pace contrasts neatly with Giroud's more physical hold-up play, meaning that opposition defences have to deal with two different, dangerous dimensions.

Like his partnership with Cazorla, Walcott's relationship with Giroud works in two different ways: intangibly, they give each other more space to work in, but also, the direct passing combinations between them are promising, somewhat reminiscent of the relationship Walcott struck up with Robin Van Persie in the 2011-12 season. The former provided a steady stream of low crosses from the flank upon which the Dutchman thrived - Giroud is clearly not as talented but his intelligent, near-post runs to meet delivery from out wide is already proving a fruitful path to goal.

The talk has typically been on the contrast between new and old, on the money spent and money saved: it was the latter that proved decisive here as Arsenal fell back on a familiar combination. It is by no means an endorsement of Wenger's prudence, but a telling reminder of the understanding he has built with his existing players.

The obvious lack of familiarity in Tottenham's new additions, meanwhile, was reflected in their reliance on working the ball into wide areas and hoping Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli could dribble past Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson. Isolating Arsenal's full-backs into 1-v-1 battles was actually a viable piece of strategy, considering that the by-effect of Walcott and Cazorla's lopsidedness was to leave the wide areas exposed - but on the occasion that Townsend and Chadli beat their man, there was only Roberto Soldado to aim for, he too another new signing not quite up to grips with his new teammates. There were no runners from midfield to support the Spaniard, no extra threat helping to occupy the centre-backs: instead, it was a battle between him and Arsenal's centre-backs, the result of which was reflected in Tottenham's impotence in front of goal.

Follow @SBNationSoccer on TwitterLike SB Nation Soccer on Facebook

More in Soccer:

Things we want to see on deadline day

Real Madrid got Gareth Bale, so now what?

What to expect on deadline day in the Premier League

Full coverage of the Premier League weekend

Watch: Helder Postiga’s amazing goal against Barcelona

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.


You must be a member of to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at You should read them.


You must be a member of to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.