In this bizarrely haphazard campaign, a solitary point earned between the league’s top four clubs in midweek barely registers as noteworthy. It has, though, heaped further pressure on a north London derby already bubbling with sub-plots. The key figure at White Hart Lane will be Aaron Ramsey, who may struggle to cope with the swarm of Tottenham bodies that tend to overload his zone of the pitch.
Santi Cazorla’s importance to Arsenal has become increasingly apparent in the last month, with Ramsey - whose bursting runs forward leave gaps in central midfield – struggling to maintain Arsenal’s balance in the middle. The Welsh midfielder has been dribbled past 52 times this season, more than any other player bar Cesc Fabregas (who has played three more games than Ramsey) and significantly more than any of his Arsenal team-mates (Mesut Ozil is second, with 34).
Swansea’s opening goal in midweek was disappointingly predictable: Jack Cork rolled Ramsey with ease, thus opening up an alarming pocket of space for him to drive into and slip a pass through for Wayne Routledge to score.
It was a familiar sight for Arsenal fans. That Ramsey is too easily turned leads to an obvious weakness in the middle, but equally problematic is his more general defensive absence, thanks largely to his propensity to storm forward and contribute in the final third. Ramsey is a supremely talented footballer and has largely excelled since moving into the middle, but these lapses are becoming increasingly frequent.
Tottenham’s tactical strategy perfectly correlates with this vulnerability. Spurs relentlessly look to play through the centre of the pitch, utilising inverted wingers to increase short passing options in central areas and, by sucking the pitch inwards, creating space out wide for their attacking full-backs.
Pochettino’s preference for overloading the centre was in evidence in Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at Upton Park; despite West Ham clearly dominating central midfield with their expertly orchestrated, congested defensive model, Spurs continued to pour bodies forward in this area – leading to a scrappy, claustrophobic battle Tottenham simply couldn’t win. They won’t have the same problem against Arsenal.
During end-to-end periods of the game, when the pitch is elongated and space in central midfield becomes harder to close out, Spurs’ Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela (if he starts) should overwhelm Ramsey - and leave Francis Coquelin with too much to do.
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