One of the keys to the match that I highlighted before the Arsenal vs Tottenham was Spurs focus in pressing in the midfield third:
Perhaps somewhat against the stereotype of a pressing team, Tottenham do not press as high as other well known pressing teams like Manchester City and Liverpool. Where Tottenham press intensely, at least according to the data (I can’t say I have watched every Tottenham match this season), is in the middle third of the field.
Overall, Tottenham average 8.5 PPDA in the middle third, which is the lowest number of passes per defensive action in the Premier League.
I was hopeful that they would perhaps not be as intense in this match but in fact the opposite happened with Tottenham allowing just 7 passes per defensive action against Arsenal.
Lewis Ambrose wrote a great article on the tactics Arsenal employed in the match, specifically the use of the wing-backs and wide forwards to bypass the Tottenham press in the center of the pitch.
While I am by no means a tactical expert, once this was pointed out by Lewis it really clicked that this was Arsenal’s plan (and they say Arsene doesn’t do tactics). I also wanted to see if this was evident in the statistics.
To test this I split the pitch into nine zones:
Then I looked at where passes ended, I colored passes that ended in the midfield center blue and everything else red and this was the result.
Lots of red and just a tiny bit of blue. To see if this was a regular occurrence or just a one time tactic for this game I pulled the data for the whole season. Against Tottenham, Arsenal attempted just 38 passes into the midfield center zone compared to 89 on average for the 11 previous matches.
You could also see that when the Arsenal midfield did get the ball they looked to play very direct. As a midfield unit Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin completed 11 of their attempted long balls.
Arsenal changing tactics and seeing that succeed in a big match is a positive step and hopefully this ”plan b” can be reused to help turn the tide against other pressing teams.