5 months ago Tottenham were top. What went wrong?



By Tony Attwood

On 11 October 2023 Tottenham Hotspur were top of the Premier League.  The Guardian then published a piece by Ben McAleer which had been written for WhoScored which raved over the club’s “Six wins and two draws from their opening eight league games,” and called this “a brilliant return, especially considering they have already played Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, securing seven points from the nine available.”

Because of this, the article concluded that Tottenham had “passed the tests presented by the Premier League’s big hitters and have also won games when their backs have been against the wall – as shown by their hard-fought 1-0 win at Luton on Saturday, when they held on for the victory despite being reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time.”

Five months on no one who knows anything about football would consider a win over Luton could possibly be called “hard fought” in the sense of what happens within the laws of the game.

Indeed prior to their defeat to Tottenham by 1-0, Luton Town had just lost at home to Burnley.  True, before that they had beaten Everton but that was the only win in eight games, a run which included a defeat to Exeter City in the League Cup.  A run in which they had scored five and conceded 15.  So claiming that Tottenham were doing something good, having had a “hard fought” game against Luton, is such a stretch of the imagination as to make anything else written look ludicrous.

Quite what a writer from WhoScored was doing at this point one can’t imagine, since that website is the source of a lot of decent and helpful statistics.  Maybe the Guardian asked him if there was any way the stats could be twisted to show that Tottenham (who were indeed at that point unbeaten in the league, and above Arsenal having scored two goals more) had had a tough schedule.

Still at least the WhoScored writer didn’t insult us by trying to prove his point: he just asserted it.

Now of course some people will then say “you can prove anything with statistics,” which is a nonsense line put out by newspaper journalists as their excuse for ignoring statistics and just writing opinions.

The fact is that out of the eight matches played, Luton Town had only won one of them, and that was against crisis-torn Everton, who were indeed in crisis even without having had any points deducted by then.

So “Six wins and two draws from their opening eight league games is a brilliant return,” we were told, “especially considering they have already played Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, securing seven points from the nine available.

Now that makes it sound as if Tottenham had a particularly difficult opening run – but in fact if you look at the first eight games for Arsenal in the season, that run included matches against Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United.  So no real difference in toughness.

The article opened with the view that “When Ange Postecoglou’s appointment was confirmed in June, Spurs supporters just wanted a manager they could unite behind”.

Since then of course the ever-fickle media scribblers have turned on Tottenham the Mail today saying, “Ange Postecoglou was left raging after Tottenham’s 3-0 thrashing against Fulham that saw his side miss the chance to climb into the Champions League places.”

But even that is a bit wild.  If Tottenham had won yesterday yes, they would have been fourth and with a better goal difference and one point more than Villa.  But they would still be eight points below third.

In fact what happens with Tottenham is the opposite of what happens with Arsenal.   If Arsenal win we are told that had they lost they would have been further down the league.  When Tottenham lose we are told that had they won they would be further up the league.

That is contemporary journalism.  Each statement is true, but only  because clubs get points for winning and none for losing!

If you really want to know what Tottenham are up to at the moment, the best way to find out is to look at the last six league games.  In that regard they are ninth having won three, drawn one and lost two.  With a goal difference of plus three (compared to Arsenal’s GD of plus 23.)

But let’s have just one more piece from that Tottenham-glorifying article.  “Even with the departure of the club-record goalscorer, Harry Kane, Spurs have scored the fourth most league goals (18) in the league.”  And yes they are still fourth in that regard (equal with Aston Villa).   But in terms of defence (which is also part of the occasion) they have let in just two fewer than Fulham, and are we now suggesting that the Fulham defence is something of a model for up-and-coming “big” teams?

Really, I suspect (although of course I have no evidence on this) that the article was written for Who Scored but once the editors of that site stopped laughing they threw it out and told the author to “try it on the Guardian”.   He did, and they published it.


5 Replies to “5 months ago Tottenham were top. What went wrong?”

  1. Good post, enjoyed your article. You always tell it how it is. Maybe they get over confident or they don’t like the cold weather, but one thing is for sure in regards to a teams defence, your only as good as your weakest link in your defense line. Arsenal have patched up their weaker left back role with the rising form of Kiwior.

  2. To be fair to Spurs fans, at least the ones I know, it is the media that build them up, not so much the fans. Most of them live on planet Earth and accept the reality that they actually win very very little, and almost always flatter to deceive.

    The problem is the Media are simply desperate for them to, if nothing else at least, be better than Arsenal. Hence they ‘big up’ anything positive Spurs do, and play down the bad. It’s totally the opposite with us.

    But it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

    I think, by and large, Spurs fans are ok.

  3. I find Kiwior really interesting. I mean, so far no one considered him capable of stepping up big time.
    Yet he did.

    So basically, it means the recruitment of Arsenal really is good, and it gives players time when needed.
    Same with Haavertz.

    Trust the process…. Arsenal are better managed then they have been for years.

  4. I like Kiwior and he has done well over the last month but we have to be careful to not big him up too much. He benefitis from being surrounded by players that know how to play a system and he ( in all fairness) is doing so, too. He is not being asked to do more than that and he is fitting in well.

  5. GooingGoingGooner

    “He benefits from being surrounded by players that know how to play a system and he ( in all fairness) is doing so, too”.

    But surely they ALL benefit from each other?

    From my experience a brilliant ‘Back Four’ is usually a ‘Unit’ playing a ‘System’ that performs to a level above, often way above, the sum of it’s parts? If you took any of the current back four players out of this ‘unit’, with the possible exception of Saliba, they may not look quite as good, because they too are reaping the benefits of being surrounded by players that know how to play the system. No?

    For example, it is perfectly possible that Tierney is a better footballer than kiwior, but his limitations were exposed in Artetas system as he, on his own admission, couldn’t adapt. Kiwior obviously can, so my question is, does that make Kiwior the better footballer? In other words, it’s all very well being fast, skilful, and strong in the tackle if you are not capable of playing in the ‘System’?

    I think my point is Gooner, that when it comes to the back four especially, that ability to fit into a system and to contribute to it functioning at an incredibly high level, is probably a defenders most important skill set. That is an enormous talent in itself, and it is massive credit to Kiwior that he has contributed to one of the most efficient back fours we have had for decades.

    As I say, Kiwiors contribution should not be underestimated.

    Why we are talking about this back four ‘unit’, I think it is a massive compliment to Arteta and his coaching staff that by and large no matter who plays along the back line, they pretty much perform at the same level. Who ever comes in you hardly see the join.

    My one caveat to this is possibly Saliba? Is HE the glue? If he got injured would we miss him as we did towards the end of last season? Possibly?

    I hope we don’t have to find out.

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