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Talking Tactics

Spurs and Arsenal's industrious creators can decide derby

Adrian Clarke 10 May 2022
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Adrian Clarke highlights the influence of Kulusevski and Odegaard as the north London rivals go head-to-head

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 36. 

Spurs v Arsenal

Two of the Premier League’s hardest-working creators could hold the key to Thursday’s colossal north London derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Race for fourth place

Pos Team Pl GD Pts
4 TOT 38 +29 71
5 ARS 38 +13 69
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Martin Odegaard has tasted success in each of his two appearances against Spurs, playing a pivotal role in back-to-back Emirates Stadium wins.

His industry, willingness to press and ability to find space in congested areas will be crucial as the Gunners seek a win that would guarantee a top-four finish.

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January loan signing Dejan Kulusevski could be equally influential for Spurs on his debut appearance in the fixture.

In just 15 outings, and 12 starts, the Swede has made eight assists while also scoring three times.

Kulusevski's selfless running and quality end product has been key for Antonio Conte’s side during their push for UEFA Champions League qualification.

Creative influence

Odegaard might not have grabbed as many headlines this season as Bukayo Saka, who is a doubt, or Emile Smith Rowe but he has been just as impressive.

Flitting between the lines enthusiastically and displaying a lot more confidence on the ball than he did during last season’s loan spell, the Norwegian has been a valuable creative hub.

Indeed, the only two Premier League stars to have made more key passes in open play are Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah.

Chances created in open play 2021/22
Player Total
Bruno Fernandes (MUN) 75
Mohamed Salah (LIV) 61
Martin Odegaard (ARS) 56
Kevin De Bruyne (MCI) 55
Bukayo Saka (ARS) 53
Bernardo Silva (MCI) 53

Out of possession Odegaard is regularly pushed forward to trigger a press, but he is equally capable of dropping in to become a third member of a central-midfield unit. This may be needed at times to fashion overloads on Thursday.

Throughout September’s 3-1 home win over Spurs, their neighbours were unable to get a handle on Odegaard’s slippery movement.

Floating behind their two central midfielders, potentially drawing a centre-back out of position, he could be a thorn in their side once again.

The 23-year-old’s telepathic relationship with Saka is something Spurs must try to contain too.

Odegaard/Saka combination v Watford

Drifting right to link up with him, Odegaard has supplied the England international with 18 key passes this term.

Together they will look to play around Ryan Sessegnon and Ben Davies at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Odegaard's key pass recipients 2021/22
Player Total
Bukayo Saka 18
Gabriel Martinelli 10
Alexandre Lacazette 6
Eddie Nketiah 6
Emile Smith Rowe 5
Gabriel Magalhaes 5

Conte must be thrilled with Kulusevski’s outstanding end product since arriving on loan from Juventus in January.

The 22-year-old has found space expertly down Spurs' right side and been a cool customer at key moments.

Of his eight assists, five have been supplied to Son Heung-min, so Arsenal must be wary of that connection.

Kulusevski assist for Son v Leicester

This season, only Salah and Riyad Mahrez have contributed goals or assists at a faster rate than Kulusevski, who averages one every 101.4 minutes.

In their bid to keep him quiet, Arsenal have a selection dilemma at left-back.

Right-sided defender Takehiro Tomiyasu filled the gap last weekend, but the Gunners may want their strongest full-back looking after in-form Son on the opposite flank.

This could leave understudies Nuno Tavares or Cedric Soares as the most likely options, and Spurs may identify that as an area of weakness.

An alternative option is for Mikel Arteta to switch to a back three for extra defensive security.

Spurs recently struggled to break down Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford in that shape, so we could see a unit of Ben White (if he is fit enough to play), Rob Holding and Gabriel flanked by Saka and Tomiyasu in the wing-back positions.

Top five for direct goal involvements
Player Mins per direct goal involvement
Mohamed Salah (LIV) 77.5
Riyad Mahrez (MCI) 83.4
Dejan Kulusevski (TOT) 101.4
Son Heung-min (TOT) 102.5
Bernardo Silva (MCI) 53

*Minimum 10 goal involvements (stats from 10 May)

One of the standout strengths Odegaard and Kulusevksi share is a tireless work ethic.

In a match of this magnitude, one that is likely to be played at a frenetic pace, both managers will need to know they can rely on their players, and they both fit the bill.

Despite being super-creative they each top their respective club's rankings for the average distance covered per 90 minutes.

Distance covered 2021/22
Player Distance/90 (km) Club rank
Odegaard 11.3 1st
Kulusevski 11.7 =1st

Both men want to close down defenders, with Kulusevski ranked fifth for all attacking midfielders when it comes to pressures per 90. Odegaard is placed a respectable 16th in that category.

On and off the ball, Odegaard and Kulusevski have made themselves invaluable players.

If either brings their A-game to the table on Thursday evening they could be the matchwinner.

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