Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As Tottenham Hotspur hold off Arsenal to continue their march to Premier League glory, we ask football writers Iain Macintosh and Jack Prescott whether Spurs, after 20 years of finishing behind the Gunners, have overhauled their bitter rivals for good…
Yes, Spurs are unstoppable
“Pochettino has built a squad of likeable, hard-working professionals” – Iain Macintosh, editor of The Set Pieces
Tottenham used to have a knack for ruining talent. Sergei Rebrov, Roberto Soldado and so many more arrived in north London with glowing reputations, but left unfulfilled. That doesn’t happen so much now. This season, Spurs have recruited Son Heung-min, Toby Alderweireld, Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier and they’ve all played their part in a fine season. Only Clinton N’Jie remains unproven, but given that he’s out injured and has barely played, we’ll let that one slide. A few more inspired signings this summer and Spurs could really kick on.
You knew something was seriously wrong at Spurs in 2013 when newly installed manager Tim Sherwood complained that the senior team couldn’t play the sort of football he’d championed as coach of the development squad. Prior to that, there were suggestions that former manager André Villas-Boas was saddled with players he didn’t want. You can’t have one of the biggest clubs in England run like a collection of feuding city states, hence their relatively poor results for the past few seasons. Now, finally, it feels as if everyone is on the same page. The entire power structure has been torn up and redrafted. And it shows.
A world-class manager
The only doubt over Mauricio Pochettino’s suitability for Spurs was whether or not club chairman Daniel Levy would give him the time to impose himself on a fractured dressing room. This was a job that required time and patience. Spurs were mid-table and had lost six games by early December 2014, but Levy resisted the urge to meddle. Now look at them. Pochettino has quietly removed the problem players, built a squad of likeable, hard-working professionals and the team looks more stable and trustworthy than at any point in the Premier League’s history.
Just a single point from their last two league games might leave the impression that Spurs have bottled the title challenge, but you really can’t draw conclusions like that from 180 minutes of football. Besides, as bad as Tottenham were at Upton Park last week, they didn’t let it affect them when they hosted Arsenal at White Hart Lane a few days later, and were the better side for much of the game. Yes, they slipped up by letting the Gunners equalise, but remember that just by taking a draw, they’d brought their total number of points recovered from losing positions up to 17, the highest in the league. Spurs are no longer Spursy.
A new home
Arsenal’s huge financial advantage will soon be a thing of the past. Tottenham’s new stadium is on the way and if all goes according to plan, it will transform the club’s fortunes. Suddenly, Spurs will be able to tap into London’s riches and match the spending of the big clubs without breaking sweat. With increased ticket revenue, vastly increased corporate revenue and the small matter of NFL hosting rights, Spurs are set to clean up. And if they continue to perform on the pitch, Arsenal’s position as north London’s dominant power will be seriously under threat.
No, Arsenal will out-gun them
“Harry Kane can’t maintain his scoring exploits forever” – Jack Prescott, sports writer, Virgin Media
Without Kane they’re unable
Harry Kane's goals have taken Spurs from Europa League-qualification hopefuls to title challengers, and his fitness and consistency have been crucial to this. If the red-hot striker experiences a dip in form or even picks up a serious injury, then the Tottenham attack is severely blunted. Spurs have no out-and-out striker to provide support for the England man and that should be a cause for concern for Mauricio Pochettino. Kane cannot be expected to maintain his scoring exploits forever and Pochettino will need to look for a back-up. However, Spurs haven't exactly had a good record in signing forwards in recent times. Roberto Soldado, Adel Taarabt and Mido, anyone?
Flattered by their rivals
To say it’s been a bit of a barmy season would be a grand understatement. Spurs are currently suffering from a collective nosebleed due to their dizzying league position, but that’s only because the usual suspects have severely underperformed. If Arsenal, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs weren’t quite so busy dropping points here, there and everywhere, Tottenham would most likely be doing their usual thing of meekly battling for fifth (aka ‘doing a Spurs’). Basically, they’ve been in the right place at the right time.
They lack bottle
Dubbed ‘the biggest north London derby in years’, Tottenham missed a glorious chance to bury neighbours Arsenal when they drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane last Saturday. That result came just days after an away defeat to West Ham United, suggesting that they don’t have the mettle to get over the line in the biggest of big games. It’s a criticism that Arsène Wenger himself is all too familiar with: if you want to be champions, you need to grind out results in the key matches. Spurs’ inability to do this shows that they’re still undercooked.
It’s all about the manager
Mauricio Pochettino is one of the most astute managers currently plying his trade in Europe, and he’s been central to Tottenham’s success this season. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) for Spurs fans, that’s led to speculation over his future. Chelsea are apparently eyeing up the Argentine to replace interim manager Guus Hiddink, while Pochettino’s success won’t have gone unnoticed on the continent. If he leaves in the summer, Tottenham can expect to regress back to the inconsistencies of yore.
A new debt
Tottenham have begun work on a 61,000-seat stadium – ready for the 2018/19 season – which will cost a whopping £750million. The huge loans and repayment structures will unquestionably impact Spurs' financial muscle in the transfer market over many years to come. It took rivals Arsenal almost a decade of austerity to pay off the cost of building their Emirates home with Arsène Wenger having to sell star names while operating on a shoe-string budget. Spurs will have the same problem and won't be able to compete with their north London rivals – or any of the Premier League’s other big guns – when it comes to signing top players.
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