03 January 2014

Tim Sherwood's new-look Spurs: tactical analysis

For as much glee as many of us have taken from Spurs' shambolic start to the season, despite having lavished more than £100m on new players, they do seem to have some kind of form under new manager Tim Sherwood. Gone, it seems, is the tactical rigidity that Villas Boas was sometimes guilty of, such as the high defensive line, the inverted wingers, even the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Biggest of all, though, might the change in attitude—Spurs seem to be playing with less tension and more freedom, and the early results are noticeable: they've won three of their last four, taking ten 10 of 12 points, including last week's win at Old Trafford, and they look more confident than ever as a result.

The sacking of Villas-Boas halfway through the season might strike some as harsh; after all, he had helped lead Spurs to a strong, fifth-place finish last season and only missed 4th by a narrow margin, and the club had last its talisman while looking to incorporate seven new signings. However, his best seasons have come not necessarily through his own tactics but through brilliant seasons from individual players, whether it was Bale in 2012-13 or Hulk in 2010-11 with FC Porto. Villas-Boas's apparent refusal to adapt his tactics to personnel or opponents may have brought about his downfall.

However, why he's gone matters less to us than how his replacement has done. Given that it's only been five matches, we would do well to study these rather than bask in the fiasco of the first half as a whole. Villas-Boas's inverted wingers are gone, meaning that midfielders are no longer playing out of position and that some width can be restored to that midfield. Gone also is the high defensive line, which exacerbated the narrowness that the inverted wingers were prone to creating, and which was exploited so ruthlessly on counter-attacks.

Much as it might gall Gooners, the return of Emmanuel Adebayor has been a factor. Perhaps realizing that Soldado couldn't deliver as a lone central striker, Sherwood as restored Adebayor, although he seems to play as more of a second striker, dropping down deeper to receive the ball and creating more space for (and less pressure on) Soldado, who struggled while working as the lone striker.

However, injuries might just shear some of the edge off of Spurs' apparent revival. Adebayor, for one, faces a late fitness test and might be ruled out. Definitely out, it seems, are Vertongen, Sandro, Paulinho, Kaboul, Defoe, and Townsend. This may force Townsend to throw on inexperienced players such as Lamela, Chadii, and Fryers. Whether they can deputize well, be incorporated into Sherwood's new approach, or fathom the intensity of a North London Derby remains to be seen.

Of course, we'll have injuries of our own to cope with, but, contrary to other FA Cup matches, Arsène has suggested that there will be little other rotation:
I will only rest the players who are on the fringes of injuries or are very tired, but that will be very restricted to a minimal number of players. I just consider that it is our next game
—we are Arsenal Football Club and we want to win the next game, that is vital for us. In this case I consider it a top level Premier League game, that means I have to play a team who has a chance to win a top level Premier League game.
With these words in mind, we will probably see a side named that is essentially the same as it was against Cardiff. While it's true that Podolski struggled as the central striker, keep in mind that Cardiff kept ten men behind the ball, with 6-7 in the box, and he couldn't find space to operate. He's simply our best option. Playing him in front of an attacking midfield of Cazorla-Rosický-Walcott would offer a good deal of energy and creativity while preserving Walcott's pace down the side. We might suffer a bit from Podolski as the striker, but this is less of a sacrifice than playing Walcott there. Behind them, we might see Wilshere with Arteta. Arteta's preference for staying in front of the back four would allow Wilshere more freedom to press forward (as Ramsey frequently did early on) and for he and Rosický to operate interchangeably.

Along the back line, Monreal and Mertesacker continue, but I'd like to see Vermaelen start. Koscielny's knee-gash could likely use more rest, and I think Vermaelen will do well.  I would then continue to play Sagna as the right-back even if he could afford a rest. After all, for as much as we need solidity, we also need players who understand and can rise to the pressure of the derby, and Sagna has done that. In fact, I'm going to predict that Sagna will deliver a goal as we take the bloom off of the of Sherwood's short tenure—a 3-1 win for Arsenal.

Make your predictions in the comments below: who will score? What will be the final? Who'ss your Man of the Match? Thanks, as always, for your visit!