Arsenal finished yesterday's match with both Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott substituted for full-backs and soaking up late pressure from Tottenham to hold on for a 1-0 victory. However, even though Spurs somewhat surprisingly dominated possession (57% to 43%), this was a deserved victory for Arsene Wenger's side.
Tottenham's technical director Franco Baldini has been praised for astutely spending the Gareth Bale transfer fee before the move officially went through yesterday, leaving the club in a strong position to cope with the loss of last season's footballer of the year. This was contrasted with their north London rivals inactivity and apparent lack of planning as Arsenal went into the derby with only Yaya Sanogo on a free transfer as their only signing of the transfer window. However, despite the purchases of Érik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Vlad Chiriches, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Nacer Chadli at a cost of over one hundred million pounds, there remains a Luka Modric-shaped hole in the Tottenham midfield.
Yesterday Arsenal edged the classic clash of styles and body types in midfield with the diminutive triumvirate of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky getting the better of their Spurs counterparts in the first half despite being at significant disadvantage in terms of height and power. Mousa Dembele, Paulinho and Capoue's undoubted ability to pummel the three Arsenal elves in a boxing ring wasn't any use to them at the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger employed Ramsey and Wilshere to play as an orthodox midfield duo with Rosicky playing closer to Olivier Giroud up front. Capoue played as the deepest of Spurs midfield three, releasing Paulinho and to a greater extent Dembele to make hay between the lines.
Capoue's passing was rarely creative and was looked sluggish at times in possession. The French international was only playing his third Premier League match and should improve but even still, he arrived from Toulouse with the reputation of being a holding player who can play centre-back so it would be be a surprise he could thrive a deep-lying playmaker. Paulinho got himself in some good positions yesterday and exposed Ramsey's poor defensive positioning on a couple of occasions but in the Confederations Cup and in his few appearances for Tottenham, has never looked like a player who wants to conduct the orchestra. Eriksen is expected to play as a number 10 so Andre Villas-Boas would be appear to be left with plenty of athleticism but probably short of subtlety in central midfield. Spurs have been faced with this problem since the departure of Modric to Real Madrid in 2012 with the scarcity of players of his ilk in the modern game meaning he would always be difficult to replace.
Arsenal dropped deeper as the second half progressed, inviting Spurs to break them down but they rarely threatened to do so. In fact, the Gunners simple but effective tactic of having Santi Cazorla threading through balls for Theo Walcott coming off his wing and running behind Spurs' high defensive line always looked the most likely avenue for a second goal. As the outstanding football writer Jonathan Wilson has noted before, one of the keys to this high-risk defensive strategy is having a goalkeeper who is quick and can anticipate the threat of a piercing ball behind the defence. Hugo Lloris is very much this type of goalkeeper and he was outstanding yesterday in that regard, even producing a clean sliding tackle on the edge of the box to deny Walcott. But Lloris couldn't prevent the system breakdown which cost his team dearly in the 23rd minute. Michael Dawson dropped back into his own box fearing the threat of Giroud and his central defensive partner Jan Vertonghen attempted to step up and play offside instead of going with the run of Walcott. This left Walcott onside and in space and he crossed low for Giroud to finish expertly.
Tottenham's most dangerous player was a left-footed winger who played on the right and was always keen to cut inside and shoot for goal from outside the box. Andros Townsend's Gareth Bale impersonation wasn't without promise and was unfortunate to be chosen to be substituted ahead of the wasteful Chadli. Despite Townsend's best efforts, Tottenham did miss the goal threat of their Welsh talisman yesterday and will hope Lamela and Eriksen can help pick up some of the offensive slack in the coming weeks after three games without a goal from open play.