Arsenal still lack sharpness in derby draw against Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen (left) and Arsenal's Theo Walcott (centre) exchange words

Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen (left) and Arsenal's Theo Walcott (centre) exchange words - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Arsenal have come through many different tests recently that have given weight to their ambition of being title contenders.

Chelsea at home, a team they have struggled against for so many years, were brushed aside. Then Burnley away, a game which previous Arsenal teams might have lost, was won thanks to rolling up the sleeves and digging in.

And against Ludogorets last week, they came back from 2-0 down to win, mental strength fully in check.

But there’s one nut they still can’t crack which has remained a source of frustration throughout the Emirates Stadium years: how do they go about being more effective at breaking down teams that would settle for a draw?

And the problem reared its head against Tottenham on Sunday. The reaction of the travelling fans and Mauricio Pochettino told that Spurs were happy with a point.

They were within their rights to be too, what with their form being shaky. Arsenal, though, were less satisfied. It’s another two points dropped after the 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough.

So why isn’t more been done to make sure Arsenal win this type of game? It’s the most common type of test they face, and the one they most frequently fail.

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Time after time teams come to the Emirates and focus on playing defensively with a threat on the counter-attack.

Tottenham gave a fantastic example of how to do it on Sunday: playing with three centre-backs was a surprise tactic (at least, according to Theo Walcott) which negated any threat Arsenal had with crosses into the box. It also meant Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were helped out on the flank by an extra defender when Arsenal tried to overload on the wings.

And a two-pronged midfield shield of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama helped to null the threat of Mesut Ozil. There’s been so much warranted hype around the German recently, but he had no answer against such a well-organised back line.

That’s not to say it was backs-to-the-wall stuff from Spurs, far from it. Like Middlesbrough two weeks ago they could have won it. Although their penalty award was contentious, they still created the better chances in the second half, including Christian Eriksen’s free kick hitting the post.

After frustrating home draws like these, Arsene Wenger often talks about a ‘lack of sharpness’ in attack. With it being such a common theme, it’s a wonder more isn’t done to remedy it.

Why do Arsenal lack sharpness so often?

Sure, they play a lot of matches and they haven’t rotated too much in recent weeks, but Sunday was a North London derby – one of two fixtures of the year where you need to make sure you’re at your absolute sharpest.

Could Alexis Sanchez or Ozil have been rested in Bulgaria? If it would have made a difference to their sharpness against Tottenham, then there’s an argument for it.

Plan B didn’t work this time either. Olivier Giroud has come back from injury with a bang but chucking on the big man didn’t work like it did at Sunderland. Spurs’ three centre backs saw to that.

Often when Arsenal score early in this type of game it settles the nerves and they win comfortably, or they keep plugging away before getting a late goal. But when a team as tactically smart as Tottenham come to the Emirates, the Gunners need to be more prepared for it, or it will always remain a test they can’t pass.

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