Duel of the Fates

 Post 5

Spurs 2 Arsenal 0

1st May 2017

Yesterday was glorious.

And, for me, yesterday was like meeting an ex-girlfriend and realizing she’s no longer important to you. For a while, after the two of you broke up, you worry about bumping into her. How do you look? Does she have a new bloke? Will your own new bird match up?

Spurs spanked Arsenal by a score line that could, and probably should, have been 4 or 5. You could tell that our players had been briefed to control their emotions. We played within ourselves, the first half in second gear, the second half in third. Fourth gear wasn’t necessary. This Arsenal team is no match for our controlled aggression. Goals from Dele and Kane (pen) were enough. But missed sitters (Dele and Eriksen), some decent saves by Cech, and a clear second penalty not given by the ref (Sanchez handball) will make the result appear less convincing in the record books than it was.

Fortunately, our fans will never need record books to remember the last NLD at the Lane. For many of them, yesterday was about abolishing St. Totteringham’s Day and ending two decades of piss-taking by Gooners at work. But for me it was about something else.

I remember the 5-1 League Cup SF win in 2008, the 2-1 home wins in 2010 (Rose, Bale) and 2013 (Bale, Lennon), and being at the Emirates for the 3-2 when we finally won there. All those matches were memorable because I hoped we’d win and my dreams came true. But I didn’t expect to win. Afterwards, I drank way too much and basked in the glow for days.

For too long, our self-worth was defined by our results against Arsenal and, to an extent, Chelsea. We were London’s third team, on the edge of England’s Top Six, dreaming of CL qualification as our holy grail. One-off wins against the money-clubs and maybe a League Cup final were the extent of our realistic ambition.

Until Levy met Pochettino.

Yesterday I expected to win. Mere hope didn’t come into it. And that made it clear how much we’ve traded up. Like bumping into that ex and being a bit surprised when you find yourself wondering what you actually saw in her. I mean, the sex wasn’t even that good, was it? The bird you have now is way hotter. And nicer. So it’s clearly best that everybody’s moved on in their lives.

Arsenal felt like Watford and Bournemouth before them. They came, we saw, we swatted them away. In truth, even before yesterday, beating Arsenal isn’t what it was, especially at WHL. Our six most recent PL games at home to Arsenal have been 3 wins, 2 draws, and 1 undeserved loss (2-1, 3-3, 2-1, 0-1, 2-1, 2-2). On the pitch, we’ve been slowly catching them up for a decade. Last year I’d have much rather had our Season than theirs even if they did pip us on the final day. Our team learned a lot from trying to catch Leicester. What did Arsenal learn while they crowed when we lost to Newcastle? That they needed somebody like Granit Xhaka?

Our consistent inferiority to Arsenal died a while back. Yesterday simply put nails in the coffin. Watching the recording on TV last night, the most telling images were not the goals going in, or our celebrations. The match itself was summed up by the two men on the touchline. One manager standing; young, dark, vibrant. The other manager sat down; old, grey, disconsolate. Just as Joshua had overcome Klitschko on Saturday, despite the great fighter’s experience and nous, so Pochettino’s hours in the gym and  sparring ring, the talent and youth on display, proved too much for the old guy.

At 45 yrs old, Pochettino is the Ferguson of his generation. In my last Post (4), I discussed ‘tactics’ versus ‘strategy’. Tactics affect the result of individual matches. But the latter determines long term success. I’m not sure Poch is quite at the level of a true master-tactician yet. Maybe yes, maybe no. He’s innovative, highly competent, but still always learning. But as a strategist, he’s already supreme.

He understands you sometimes have to make short term sacrifices for long term gains, so he shipped out disruptive characters despite us not having ready replacements or strength in depth. He assessed our youth and put his trust in it, now and for the future. He is a highly intelligent ex-international defender. He knows goals win matches. But defences win titles. He knew we needed a sound defence first, and the goals would then flow. 2-1s have become 4-0s. Each Season is about mastering a skill. His first Season was about us learning to play his way and press. Last year was about instilling the self belief needed to win points from losing positions. This year’s about Clean Sheets and taking maximum points from mid-table teams like Stoke, West Brom and Saints. Next year will be about improving our record against the best sides.

Like Fergie, Poch is thinking several moves ahead. He’s building for the long term. His relationship with Levy seems to be close and based on trust. His passion for the Spurs Project is genuine. His comments about ‘money’ and us ‘not buying success’ reflect two minds on the same page. Levy is a formidable businessman. Poch is a formidable manager. The other big PL clubs should be afraid. Very afraid.

 

PS: for those who may not know, “Duel of the Fates” is the music usually played before the teams come out at White Hart Lane. The theme comes from the Star Wars prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, etc.), was composed by John Williams and recorded by the LSO.

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