x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The best form of defence is attack for Redknapp

The Tottenham manager outsmarts Arsene Wenger with a bold second-half approach at the Emirates Stadium.

Rafael van der Vaart, centre, was instrumental in Spurs’ come-from-behind 3-2 win at the Emirates Stadium.
Rafael van der Vaart, centre, was instrumental in Spurs’ come-from-behind 3-2 win at the Emirates Stadium.

Harry Redknapp is not afraid to take a gamble. At Eastlands, in the penultimate match of last season, Tottenham Hotspur needed only a point against Manchester City to maintain control of the race for the coveted fourth spot. But Redknapp decided not to settle for a draw and outwitted Roberto Mancini, the Italian tactician, with his team selection.

Instead of flooding the midfield, Redknapp dropped Wilson Palacios, the midfield enforcer he spent £12 million (Dh70.4m) on the previous year, played the smooth-passing Tom Huddlestone and paired Jermain Defoe with Peter Crouch in attack. Most Spurs fans had expected Crouch to play as the lone striker. His attacking instincts served him well as Spurs recorded a 1-0 win that secured qualification for the Champions League.

"I took a big gamble and played an attacking team," Redknapp said. "We went for it. People will think I'm mad coming away from home like this - all the top teams only play with one up front now."

Redknapp was at it again yesterday, this time outsmarting Arsene Wenger with a remarkably bold second-half approach that yielded Spurs their first victory in 69 attempts on the home turf of one of the established top four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

At one point in the second half, Spurs had potent attacking weapons Rafael van der Vaart, Defoe, Gareth Bale, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Luka Modric on the field at the same time. In response to going two goals down, Redknapp deemed attack was the best form of defence and went toe-to-toe with Arsenal, who had been irresistible going forward in the first period. The tables turned in the second half following Redknapp's tactical masterstroke.

On the back of Steve Bruce's decision to play two strikers for Sunderland against Chelsea last weekend, Redknapp continued the seismic shift in emphasis - at least by English managers, anyway - from defence to attack, which is why the gap, which was once a chasm, between the previously established top four and the rest is narrowing by the week.

Arsenal had already lost twice at home in the league this season but this one, against their arch-rivals, will have been particularly hard to swallow for their perplexed fans who are still haunted by the way Spurs snatched a 4-4 draw from the jaws of a heavy defeat at the Emirates Stadium in 2008.

The inquest into this defeat could continue for a while. Wenger could point to the absence of Abou Diaby, the leggy midfielder who provides such an effective screen in front of Arsenal's vulnerable defence.

The France midfielder has not played since October 19 because of an ankle injury and, in his absence, Alex Song is not playing with the required discipline in the all-important holding midfield role.

Yesterday, the Cameroon international was often the furthest Arsenal player going forward, leaving the embryonic centre-half partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci horribly exposed. Why Wenger chose to break up the Squillaci-Johan Djourou partnership, which had been at the heart of successive wins over Manchester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton, only he will know.

The decision to start Denilson ahead of Jack Wilshere, who produced a midfield masterclass in the Carling Cup tie between these two sides earlier in the season, also looked foolhardy. The manager will also rightly be hugely disappointed with the impact of substitutes Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie.

Arsenal should have been out of sight by half time, sitting at the top of the table this morning and with talk of ending their five-year trophy drought ringing in their ears. Instead their inability to go for the jugular and their porous defence is undermining what should have been an ideal chance to end Chelsea and Manchester United's duopoly at the top of the league table this season.

There will be inevitable calls for Wenger to spend in the January transfer window and buy a commanding centre-half and a reliable goalkeeper, but the problems, it would appear, seem to be deeper-rooted than simply re-enforcing his brittle defence.

 

kaffleck@thenational.ae