Analysing Moussa Dembele's Tottenham display in the North London Derby
Many onlookers feared for Tottenham as they travelled down Seven Sisters Road to face Arsenal at the Emirates yesterday, but they produced a fine display to earn a 1-1 draw. Mauricio Pochettino’s side went into the season’s first north London derby without a win in six games and a fast Arsenal start was anticipated. However, the visitors settled quickly and stroked the ball around with some confidence. The speed of Heung Min Son was a constant threat, and despite falling behind due to Kevin Wimmer’s first-half own goal, a Harry Kane penalty won them a deserved point at the home of their fiercest rivals.
Moussa Dembele’s driving run won that penalty, and the Belgian was outstanding throughout. Mid week reports stated that Dembele was set to miss out with an ankle injury, and fans of both teams on social media knew Tottenham’s chances had increased when they saw his name on the teamsheet. The former Fulham midfielder is the technical glue in this Spurs side; capable of keeping the ball under intense pressure because of his upper body strength. Though Tottenham left themselves a tad exposed at times in the first half, Dembele and Victor Wanyama did a good job at filling the space that Mesut Ozil likes to operate in.
A feature of Arsenal’s play this season has been their full commitment to a high pressing game, led by Alexis Sanchez at the tip of their attack. Others have bought into this strategy, with Francis Coquelin playing in a more advanced role to force turnovers high up the pitch and create counter attacking opportunities. Arsene Wenger’s side tried to repeat this trick yesterday, pushing right up on Spurs’ ack three in the early stages. However, Pochettino’s side constantly found a way out, either through their two wing backs, the speed of Son or Dembele’s close control and dexterity in close spaces. Arsenal failed to sustain attacks and keep Tottenham under the cosh, and as a result their attacks were rather sporadic.
This was a fast and frenetic contest, with both sides falling well below their usual standards for passing accuracy (Arsenal completed only 70%). However, Dembele stood head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch in this regard, completing 42 of 47 attempted pass (89%). Coquelin had the second best pass completion rate with 83%. The essence of good midfield play is to contribute offensively and defensively, which may sound laughably obvious but many top midfielders do not contribute in both facets of the game. Dembele had seven ball recoveries; proof that he was a vital component of Spurs’ system without the ball as well as with it. He also had six successful dribbles, which is an unusually high number for a central midfielder. A player who can travel with the ball in central areas is a rare commodity, and it was this type of run that resulted in the penalty.
Tottenham are unbeaten in their last 25 games when Dembele and Kane have started, and both players have not been as influential this term. Deli Alli, absent yesterday through injury, will particularly benefit from Dembele’s re-emergence as an influential figure. The England international needs to be given the freedom to run free, safe in the knowledge that the ball is being circulated and will arrive at his feet eventually. The former MK Dons midfielder, rather like his rival from across north London Aaron Ramsey, isn’t always comfortable receiving the ball in deep areas with his back to goal; he wants to be facing play and arriving onto the scene late. Dembele allows Alli to focus on this side of the game by ensuring Spurs are building play smoothly from the back.
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