A few thoughts on West Ham, Arsenal, Leicester and the title race…
A bad day at the office against West Ham
A poor performance against West Ham team meant Spurs failed to take their chance to climb to the top of the table with 10 games to go.
But while the football media portrayed this as a sign that Spurs were cracking under the pressure, or running out of energy, the result was greeted with little more than a shrug by most fans on social media. We’ve been on a superb run in the league, but a bad performance was bound to come along sooner rather than later: better against West Ham than Arsenal.
Personally, I find the asymmetry between West Ham and Spurs fans quite amusing, knowing that those late winners by Stalteri, Bale and Dier caused far more pain to them. It sounded like a cracking atmosphere at Upton Park last night, and I daresay the Hammers fans are going to miss it once they are in the Olympic Stadium and watching through their binoculars.
Before the game, I felt a draw would be a decent result. It was a horribly timed match just three days before the main London derby. You can’t help feel that some players may have been saving themselves a little for that. In the cut and thrust of the Premier League, there is no room for such compromise. Our other “worst performance of the season” came on that miserable Thursday night at Anderlecht before the previous NLD: I don’t think this is a coincidence.
I must also admit that I rather like Slaven Bilic. It’s galling to lose in this way, but it was hard not to respect his tactical set-up and how he got his team fired up after they were trounced earlier in the season at the Lane. There’s no shame in losing to a good team playing well, and Spurs, at the very least, kept it tight in defeat. Goal difference may matter.
Was it a bad performance? Yes. Was it a bad result? Quite — a dropped point, rather than a dropped three. Will it be forgotten if Spurs beat Arsenal on Saturday? Absolutely.
Is this the biggest North London derby ever?
I’ve been racking my brains and trying to think of a bigger North London derby: Has there ever been more at stake, this late in the season, than this one?
Arsenal have had a horrific run, failing to progress in the FA Cup against Hull, being comfortably beaten at home by Barcelona, and then slumping to poor defeats against Man Utd and Swansea. To the insult is added the injury, comically, of Petr Cech when he came up for a corner.
Spurs are just three points and goal difference ahead of Arsenal with 10 games to go. The result, whatever happens, won’t be decisive mathematically. But it will feel like that.
Arsenal may be on a nasty run, but they are still dangerous customers. Mesut Ozil is still the league’s best chance creator, and Alexis Sanchez is deadly, even if he isn’t in the best of form. We’ll need to start well — something we’ve not done against Swansea and West Ham.
I thought the performance at the Emirates in November was one of the best I’ve seen by a Spurs team, even if we didn’t manage to go on and win. The intensity and organisation were superb, in no small part thanks to the midfield trio of Dier, Dembele and Alli. Pochettino must be tempted to break his usual rule and rush Mousa back into contention for this one.
Last year, Harry Kane hype hit fever pitch with his late headed winner. He’s looked a shadow of himself in recent weeks, especially since having that face mask fitted. I suspect, he is dropping too deep again, like he did early in the season when he went looking for goals. It’s almost like Kane needs to work LESS hard, and focus on being in the box ready for the chances when they come. Of course, Pochettino is as likely to declare his belief in unicorns as tell a player to work less hard, but we need Kane’s goals.
Can Spurs win the league
We are three points off Leicester, and with a better goal difference, with 10 games to go. Can we win the league? Absolutely.
Here are some projections from smarter people than me
The bookies aren’t offering much either way between Leicester and Spurs, but Arsenal and Man City are starting to drift.
Man City 6/1
Personally, I think this race is going right down to the wire. There’s nothing in it really, and the winning points total is going to be low. There’s never been anything like serious separation.
Leicester have lost just three times, and Spurs just four. Arguably, you’d say Leicester have an easier schedule, but you wonder if “easier” matches are more of a test for them. There comes a point where David prefers fighting Goliath than another dude with a slingshot and a dream of an upset. As for Spurs, that trip to Stamford Bridge on May 2nd…yikes.
Some realism amid the great expectations
With all the talk about titles, I think a little perspective is required at this critical point.
Every match seems so huge that the coverage becomes more about how much clubs have to lose, rather than how much they have to gain. Leicester’s success, the narrative goes, means every other club has failed to some degree.
But be honest now: where, at the start of the season, did you think Spurs would finish?
Me, I was deeply concerned by the lack of signings and inexperience in the squad, and thought we would struggle to even hit sixth, and instead risked being sucked into mid-table with teams like Stoke, Southampton and Everton looking strong.
What Leicester have achieved is utterly preposterous. It is straight out of Roy of the Rovers. For years, teams are going to get themselves into deep trouble trying to somehow emulate them. It has been a perfect storm, defying logic and gravity.
The judgement on Spurs shouldn’t be made through the prism of Leicester. With Champions League qualification looking highly likely, we have already surpassed expectations. On Saturday, we have a chance to kick Arsenal when they are down, and if we do we’ll have the best chance of finishing above them in the Wenger era. We may win the title, we may not. But this is no fluke — Spurs are going to be even stronger next season, and the season after.
Thanks for reading, please do follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.