Unai Emery's bold formation a risk for Arsenal against Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham

Aditya Devavrat 11:47 02/12/2018
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Emery and Pochettino will pit their wits against each other in the North London Derby.

Unai Emery will get his first taste of the north London derby on Sunday, as he and Arsenal put their 18-game unbeaten run on the line against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham.

The two managers share a warm relationship despite being on opposite ends of this fierce rivalry, but Pochettino will be looking to give his friend an unpleasant afternoon at the Emirates.

Here’s a look at the tactical talking points for both managers ahead of this crucial Premier League fixture.


Emery’s use of a 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 hybrid against Bournemouth raised a few eyebrows, and not just because there was no room in the set-up for Mesut Ozil.

The formation could leave Arsenal looking light in midfield against Spurs, even with the impressive Lucas Torreira around. With help from Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, Spurs’ central midfielders Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier or Harry Winks could swarm Torreira and Granit Xhaka.

Much would depend on how well the front three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexi Iwobi can strike a balance between dropping deep to help the midfield avoid that result, and pressing Spurs’ backline. In such a crucial game, having that area of doubt could be too big a risk. Will Emery revert to a traditional 4-3-3?

1201 Arsenal Formation


Tottenham’s flexibility was key to their thumping win over Chelsea. That starts with two attacking players – Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.

Last Saturday, Alli switched from being a second striker to sitting deep alongside Dier. Meanwhile, Eriksen described his position as a left-sided midfielder with the license to drop deep and help Tottenham build their play.

The duo’s tendencies dovetail nicely with each other. Alli’s ball-winning ability releases Eriksen’s forward movement and his running gives the Dane one more option when looking to create.

That flexibility will come to the fore again on Sunday. By dropping deep, Eriksen can help his defenders and fellow midfielders deal with the Arsenal press, while Alli can harass the impressive Torreira and negate the young midfielder’s influence.

1201 Alli Eriksen


Spurs’ two losses in big games this season have come against top teams in Liverpool and Manchester City who press incessantly. It’s the sort of press that Emery employed at Sevilla, and is trying to instill at Arsenal.

But that is still a work in progress – no surprise, given Emery’s only been in charge for a few months. For example, last week, Arsenal’s front three of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi made a combined three tackles and no interceptions against Bournemouth.

Though pressing depends as much on positioning and cutting out passing lanes, the forwards’ ball-winning stats show how much room there is for Arsenal to improve. They’ll need to press harder to impose themselves on Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Spurs as a whole.

1201 Arsenal Press


Given the tendency of Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac to push forward with Arsenal’s attack, Tottenham will have a weakness to exploit regardless of whether Emery employs a back three or not.

The space behind the two full-backs will be perfect targets for players like Vertonghen, Eriksen and Winks, if he plays, to exploit with long diagonals into Alli, Harry Kane, and whichever other attacking player Spurs have on the pitch. Vertonghen in particular loves playing that type of ball.

Tottenham’s own full-backs will also relish that space. Serge Aurier and Ben Davies can either position themselves to be on the receiving end of those passes, or more likely, look to run into that space as much as possible.

1201 Tottenham Diagonal

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