Why Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele is a genius to Mauricio Pochettino
By Adam Bate at the Emirates Stadium
Last Updated: 07/11/16 10:55am
Mousa Dembele was arguably the best player on the pitch as Tottenham extended their unbeaten record in the Premier League with a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Sunday. Adam Bate looks at why the midfielder earned the praise of his manager afterwards and could be Spurs’ key man…
"Dembele is a genius," said Mauricio Pochettino with a smile. "He's a genius, no?" The Tottenham manager had only been asked what he thought of the player's efforts given that he'd been substituted in the first half against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek. He responded with a superlative, before adding: "Today he was one of the best."
If 'genius' was a strong term, 'one of the best' actually felt like Pochettino was selling Dembele a little short. In a game that, as Arsene Wenger asserted, was played with great intensity but sometimes lacked for technical craft, the Belgian midfielder found time where others could not. With a drop of one of those huge shoulders, he was away.
Dembele won possession more than any other Spurs player and seldom relinquished it either. He completed 42 of his 47 passes - an accuracy rate that was far superior to any other player on the pitch. The statistics showed that there were also three tackles and a couple of interceptions but they do not reveal the apparent ease with which it was all done.
Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham - Passing
Arsenal pressed Spurs well early on but it was futile against Dembele. Inside three minutes he turned away from two to set up the first chance of the game for Kyle Walker and that was a hint of what was to come. It was his gliding run away from Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin that won the penalty from which Harry Kane earned the visitors their point.
Dembele had six successful dribbles against Arsenal - no other player on the pitch had more than two
The 1-1 draw maintains the sequence of Tottenham having not lost a Premier League game in which Dembele has started since an unfortunate defeat at Manchester United on the opening day of last season. When Dembele can be partnered with Kane, the effect it has on Tottenham is shown by the dramatic upturn in results.
Dembele and Kane - Since October 2015
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Since October 2015, Spurs are unbeaten in 25 Premier League games when the two start together with a win percentage of 64 per cent. In contrast, they've lost five of 17 where one of the pair has been missing - a win percentage of only 29 per cent. Over the course of a full season, that's the difference between winning the title and finishing outside the top 10.
In part, that's because of Dembele's ability to get Tottenham's attacking players into the game. While Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier are safe in possession, Dembele can break the lines through both dribbling the ball - there were six such runs against Arsenal - and picking out forward options. He passed more to Christian Eriksen on Sunday than to anyone else.
"Getting him on the ball is key for Tottenham," argues Sky Sports' tactics expert Danny Higginbotham. "Getting him driving through midfield and unsettling the opposition midfield. Making them make decisions they don't want to make. He's an important cog who feeds the likes of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Erik Lamela."
Two of those men were missing at the Emirates Stadium, but it's the return to full fitness of Dembele and Kane that could be the real key to Tottenham's chances. Kane is the hero, the man whose goals are capable of firing Spurs to their victories. But Dembele, Pochettino's midfield genius, is the one who can provide the platform for him to do it.