Arsenal: Arsene Wenger first-half bemoans due to practice field

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts prior to the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on February 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts prior to the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on February 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /
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Arsene Wenger has bemoaned his side’s wasteful nature on the counter-attack in the first half. To some extent, he is right, but the lack of cohesion and killer instinct comes from the practice field. Arsenal do not use counter-attacks regularly.

The second half of Saturday’s North London derby was an embarrassment. Spurs may have only scored the one goal and were perhaps fortunate to not concede late on, but the scoreline belied the pattern of play. Chance after chance was missed, with Petr Cech making a string of crucial saves. Arsenal were pressured into silly mistakes defensively, while being wasteful and wayward in their attacking play also. It was shambolic.

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But the first half was a very different story indeed. Although it was Spurs who controlled the match, enjoying extended periods of possession, dictated the tempo of the game through their command of the midfield, and created the better chances, Arsene Wenger’s side were disciplined, structured and secure as they looked to execute a deep-lying, defensive strategy.

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The plan was clear: Compact the spaces in the midfield to restrict the work of Christian Eriksen and limit the service into Harry Kane; remain patient when defending, ensuring that each individual was positionally disciplined, connected to one another in a well-structured shape; counter with pace and directness, not afraid to making longer pass into the channels for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to scamper into.

And to some extent, it did work. Although Arsenal did not engineer any genuine chances in regards to shots on the goal or saves made by Hugo Lloris, there were several openings that were not taken advantage of. Wenger, rightly, bemoaned the lack of ruthlessness, composure, and intelligence that his players showed on the break:

"“Firstly, I think the game should have been finished at half-time for me. We missed opportunities on counter-attacks that are not missable at our level, due to the final ball <…> We’ve got mixed feelings because for long periods in the first half, with a bit more quality in our final pass, we would have won this game.”"

The problem, though, is that, while this may have been a strategy that Wenger believed exposed weaknesses in Spurs’ style, Arsenal are not a team that are well-versed in a counter-attacking style. They not like Liverpool or Chelsea who have worked on quick-strike attacks in training. They are not defensive stable like Manchester United or Spurs even. This is not their style; this is not an approach that suits them.

Wenger may bemoan his side’s inability to take advantage of the opportunities that were there in the first half, and there certainly were openings that should have been far better worked, but it seems a little harsh to judge players inability to execute a plan that they are not used to or comfortable with.

Next: Arsenal Vs Spurs: 5 things we learned

This Arsenal team do not defend and counter well. It’s just not in their DNA, and it isn’t something that Wenger works on in training. The problems came from the training ground. They just showed themselves on the pitch.