By Tony Attwood
In many ways it would appear that Tottenham Hotspur should be doing better than they are.
Every major newspaper and virtually all the major online football sites predicted that Tottenham would finish in the top four this season – and of course they still could, although they are now five points short of Newcastle, and a whacking great 14 points short of top place having played a game more.
And yet they have a big new stadium, lauded by the media, a highly successful manager, lauded by the media, and the second highest goal scorer, ceaselessly lauded by the media (at least he was in the build-up on TV to the north London derby.)
Which really makes the point that surely Antonio Conte and Harry Kane with Heung-min Son ought to be a winning combination, both in terms of current performance on the pitch and as a way of attracting new players to the club.
Additionally, there was, among those Tottenham supporters I know, some considerable amusement last season when Tottenham made it into the Champions League and Arsenal did not – although the difference was only two points.
But there is a problem here, because there is a tendency among supporters and journalists to see a failure at the last as a special sort of failure – a failure to complete the task when the pressure is on. And it is this sort of vision which, I think tends to obscure what is really happening. For in reality each win is still worth three points no matter when it happens.
Tottenham’s run at the end of last season involved going unbeaten in six Premier League games – always a helpful thing to do, and it gave a positive feel through the summer. And they did indeed start with seven games unbeaten this season in the Premier League.
But such runs need to be carried through and they have only had three wins in the most recent nine league games which is why in a table reflecting the last ten league games they are 12th, with a goal difference of zero and half the points that Arsenal have accumulated.
Worse still, psychologically at least, in the last ten games Tottenham are actually doing worse than such mighty clubs as Leciester and Nottingham Forest.
Yet another Guardian headline reads, Rise of Newcastle and Arsenal means Spurs chairman may have to relinquish control for investment, and these three stories are all running on the front page of the Guardian’s football coverage at the moment. Three change-related headlines halfway through the season normally suggest something is not right.
There is also the issue of the “Big Seven” table – something not particularly covered in the media but which we did recently as a bit of fun. That shows that when it comes to the crunch in the matches against the other big teams Tottenham don’t seem to be hacking it.
One of the big problems was that the actual difference between Arsenal and Tottenham last season was only two points, but it was talked up by the media as “a chasm”. Yet clearly Arsenal were on the up and had a young team that was still growing.
And the fact is that Tottenham has had 14 seasons in which they have bobbled between second (once) and eighth (once) in the league, The last four seasons of two fourth places,, a sixth and a seventh shows that they are not at the level that some people suggest, and that currently position in the table of the big seven shows that they are not hacking it against the more successful teams.
I think the difference between the two teams is that throughout the recent period Tottenham have taken the view that they are “almost there” and that just a bit of tinkering will take them a stage further up the league. But the reality is that there are times when a club needs a total rebuild, and with Tottenham the difficulty is that what was rebuilt (or to be more accurate built afresh) was the stadium not the team.
The problem for Tottenham and for many clubs is that the narrative created by the media is one based on a handful of recent results – the media doesn’t really do long term. So Tottenham beating Arsenal 3-0 in May 2022 was seen as a sign of the times.
But football is far, far more complex than one result, or even a whole season. The media utterly refused to see that after Arteta arrived he started out on a huge project of changing the way Arsenal play (and yes I am back to the tale of Arsenal cutting out the tackles and so removing themselves from being top of the yellow card league).
Tottenham with its much more regular change of managers doesn’t seem to do long term. If they did they would see that the last thing they won was the league cup in 2008. And before that it was the League Cup in 1999.
Tottenham are now in the post-new-stadium era, something that we know all about at Arsenal. It could be quite a while before they come out of it. Although of course, as ever, I could be quite wrong.
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