North London clubs thriving with three at the back
Like Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal are now reaping the benefits of their tactical tweaks
Three's no longer a crowd for north London's footballing duopoly.
Chelsea may remain the standard bearer for the approach, with Antonio Conte transformed from potential EPL early managerial casualty into their supreme leader.
But it is in another corner of the capital where the tactical revolution is stirring.
Tottenham remain on course in their attempt to take the fight to the champions-elect with the merits of a three-man defence extending their winning run to eight league games in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Mauricio Pochettino changed his approach to offer an element of surprise to opponents in danger of becoming immune to the 4-2-3-1 formation which had helped Spurs to within a whisker of beating Leicester City to the EPL title last season.
Conte may have emerged victorious from last weekend's thrilling FA Cup semi-final between the sides, but Pochettino's tactical shift bested Chelsea earlier this season, and it has thrown his side back into a title race that was previously a foregone conclusion.
Although they are likely to fall short again this season, ironically to another Italian coach flanked by a clan of blue-shirted gladiators, Spurs boast the merits of their new-found system just as much as Chelsea, if not more so.
A key selling point in Pochettino's on-field revisionism has been flexibility.
Christian Eriksen, arguably more than most, demonstrated at Selhurst Park yesterday morning why he comfortably remains the Lilywhites' greatest beneficiary of the approach.
Yes, it was a very big goal. We showed we’re still in it. We have to keep going, focus on ourselves and see where it ends.Tottenham’s match-winner Christian Eriksen
Finding enough space in a crowded Palace half to execute a 25-metre strike is by no means an easy feat but the Danish playmaker made it appear so with his 78th-minute winner.
Dele Alli, though lacking the headline-grabbing exploits of his previous visit to south London, has been another player who finds himself front and centre of Pochettino's blueprint alongside Eriksen, Son Heung Min and, most notably, Harry Kane.
Merits of defensive diligence can also be found, with Ben Davies growing in confidence down the left flank despite Danny Rose's recent spell on the sidelines threatening to see him exposed by his manager now wedded to a new philosophy.
Since the turn of 2017, Spurs have conceded just nine goals in 15 EPL games.
That stability has been reflected in Arsenal's similar, albeit belated, success in becoming the 17th top-flight team to abandon conservatism in favour of the system this season.
Arsene Wenger could be forgiven for wondering whether such a simple switch could have stemmed a season-long tide of unrest towards him far sooner.
Ever the pragmatist, the EPL's elder statesman brought forward his plans to incorporate a narrow win over Middlesbrough just six days before rendering Manchester City trophy-less at Wembley last weekend.
Safety in numbers helped an otherwise unconvincing pairing of Gabriel Paulista, a right back by definition, and a developing Rob Holding appear more assured by the presence of Laurent Koscielny in between the two.
It saw the pair responsible for a record-high 31 clearances between them against Pep Guardiola's side while Nacho Monreal's shift forward consequently allowed him to pull the Gunners level in combining with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the opposing flank.
Neither Monreal nor the England international have appeared comfortable in wide roles and, while one swallow does not necessarily define a summer, they appeared significantly improved in the positions by Wenger's long-overdue tweaking.
Sunday's north London Derby at White Hart Lane provides Wenger with an almost alien scenario.
He knows that the odds are stacked against him, and that a home victory will condemn Arsenal to finishing beneath their local rivals for the first time since 1995.
But his willingness to embrace innovation for the first time in two decades may help repair some of the damage that his stubbornness has inflicted on his Emirates Stadium tenure.