Lack of belief is holding Lilywhites back
PUBLISHED: 15:31 04 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:31 07 September 2010
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HARRY Redknapp was rightly furious with his side s defending at the Emirates, branding his rearguard s trio of catastrophes as Sunday morning defending . Of course, it was ultimately Tottenham s lapses at the back...
By Ben Pearce
HARRY Redknapp was rightly furious with his side's defending at the Emirates, branding his rearguard's trio of catastrophes as "Sunday morning defending".
Of course, it was ultimately Tottenham's lapses at the back which sent them crashing to defeat, and in particular a crazy one-minute spell which produced two unforgivable goals.
However, Redknapp cannot escape criticism. His defensive team selection and tactics neutered his side, totally undermining their offensive potential, and gave Arsenal the upper hand before the match had even kicked off.
Let's get one thing out of the way. Spurs were missing Jermain Defoe, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon - arguably their three best attacking players - and that adds up to a massive handicap. It is a perfectly valid excuse.
Perhaps that was why Redknapp set his team up to contain Arsenal rather than "take the game to them", as he had promised 24 hours earlier. Maybe he felt that, without Lennon in particular, Tottenham would lose an open end-to-end thriller. And maybe he was right.
Of course, the Spurs boss may claim that his shape wasn't defensive or negative. After all, Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane are both strikers - wasn't it 4-4-2?
Not really. It certainly looked like Wilson Palacios, Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone were all playing in central midfield, screening the defence.
The fact that one of those triumverate was picked ahead of the more creative Niko Kranjcar also spoke volumes.
Meanwhile, David Bentley was playing as an orthodox right midfielder, and Robbie Keane spent more time on the left of midfield than he did in the region of his 'strike partner'.
It may have looked like 4-4-2 on the teamsheet, but it was much more like 4-5-1, and Sebastien Bassong's insight into Tottenham's tactics also smells of negativity - "We had Peter Crouch up front, we tried to hit him because the Arsenal defence was not so big."
This was a rare change from Redknapp's favoured 4-4-2 formation - or 4-2-4 as he called it recently, because of his attacking wingers.
But the manager had also put Jenas, Huddlestone and Palacios in midfield at Stamford Bridge, to mirror and supposedly counter Chelsea's diamond formation.
Before that London derby the boss had said something along the lines of "we've got to make sure that we impose ourselves on them, not sit back and worry about what they can do to us" - his very words last Friday ahead of the north London derby.
But on both occasions Redknapp has indeed worried about what the other side could do to him - and changed his tactics accordingly.
By altering his usual shape to shadow Chelsea's, Redknapp nullified Spurs' greatest assets - their width - and instead took Chelsea on at their own game, trying to outplay the Blues with their own formation, which the home side obviously knew infinitely better. The result? A 3-0 defeat.
This weekend the Tottenham manager was concerned by Arsenal's movement, particularly at the Emirates, so he packed his midfield to limit the space. The result? A 3-0 defeat.
It was an understandable approach, but far from innovative. Arsenal face defensive teams at the Emirates every other week, and they are arguably the best team in the league at breaking them down.
Spurs failed miserably against Arsenal for the same reason they failed miserably against Chelsea - they were trying to neutralise their opponents, rather than playing to their own strengths.
Eight weeks ago Tottenham attacked Manchester United at White Hart Lane, playing 4-4-2. They played an aggressive, open game and lost 3-1.
The Lilywhites were naive, never showing the discipline to sit back and defend their lead. Perhaps Redknapp felt that was an important lesson for future meetings with the Big Four - but at least his side were ahead that day.
Since then, Tottenham have failed to score, or even really threaten, against Chelsea and Arsenal.
Saturday's loss was only one game and it is not fatal - Spurs fans have had 10 years to get used to losing the north London derby. However, Tottenham's claims that they are getting ever closer to the top four has taken a real hit.
The result was bad enough, but Tottenham's manner and intentions were more disappointing. In fact they were alarming.
Three years ago, in December 2006, Spurs travelled to the Emirates for the first time under Martin Jol. They never looked like they believed they could win, Keane spent more time on the left of midfield than he did in the vicinity of Dimitar Berbatov - who was utterly isolated - and Arsenal won 3-0.
What has changed since then? Not the tactics, and not the scoreline. Redknapp speaks inspiringly about the need to be aggressive and pro-active, "imposing ourselves on them", but he now seems reluctant to practice what he preaches when he arrives at the bastions of the Big Four.
After the defeat against Chelsea, Redknapp was asked why he hadn't played Lennon wide on the right, since the winger is/was "in the form of his life". The answer from the manager: "Yes well so is Ashley Cole, I've yet to see anyone beat him."
Disappointingly, that seems to have been Redknapp's attitude recently. Spurs arguably have the players to match their rivals, but lately they have been reluctant to put it to the test and take them on man-for-man. Perhaps it is time to remember the club's own motto.
To dare is to do.