Pressure mounting on Nuno Espirito Santo as Arsenal blow shambolic Tottenham away

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 (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
(IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)

Nuno Espirito Santo took responsibility for a humiliating defeat but, while commendable, the manager’s honesty will do little to reassure Tottenham fans he is up to the job.

Neither will Nuno’s post-match promise to supporters that his side would “try to fix” their many problems following one of their limpest displays in recent memory.

Nuno is one of the top-flight’s least willing and articulate communicators to the media and you had to wonder if his players were also struggling to understand his instructions — or simply not responding to them — in yesterday’s 3-1 defeat by Arsenal. It was not just that Spurs’s game plan “didn’t work”, as Nuno acknowledged afterwards, it was that his players looked totally disinterested.

Even by Tottenham’s recent standards at the Emirates, where they have not won in the League since November 2010, it was a remarkably passive and shambolic performance. There was no one in midfield in the first half. Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele wafted through the game ineffectively and the former was hooked at half-time, his mini-renaissance abruptly over. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was nowhere.

Spurs’s defence was wide open and statuesque. When Spurs did have first-half possession, they typically invited Arsenal’s press by dawdling or sent a hopeful long ball towards Harry Kane, who could not be accused of a lack of effort but hardly radiated positive energy. Three times in the first 35 minutes Arsenal cut through Spurs with devastating precision, Emile Smith-Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka all scoring low finishes from inside the box.

Nuno has told his players his priority is to put the “building blocks” in place by making Spurs fit, compact, organised, industrious and, above all, hard to beat. The manager has even made “solid” his uninspiring buzzword.

The Portuguese arrived with a reputation for counter-punching, which seemed ill-suited to the club, but he was, at least, supposed to take Spurs back to basics after their confidence, defending and fitness deteriorated under Jose Mourinho. They were anything but solid in the first half yesterday and they have now lost three London derbies on the bounce, conceding three times in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since September 2003.

Nuno also got it badly wrong at Crystal Palace, but he had legitimate excuses for the defeat, which came on the back of a nightmare international break in which high-flying Spurs lost three players to quarantine and three more to injury. Against Chelsea, meanwhile, there was at least a 30-minute spell of pressure on which to build.

There were no caveats or comforts from yesterday’s humiliation, with Nuno missing just one first-team player in Steven Bergwijn.

Of course, Tottenham’s problems long pre-date Nuno and the buck stops with the board, whose mismanagement goes right back to their failure to heed Mauricio Pochettino’s warnings about the need to refresh his squad.

Tottenham were shambolic at times at the Emirates Stadium (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
Tottenham were shambolic at times at the Emirates Stadium (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)

It was fitting that on the weekend the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium played spectacular host to the Joshua-Usyk fight on Saturday, the biggest non-football event at the ground yet, Spurs fell to their worst defeat in years. The club have neglected the team in favour of infrastructure, and it is showing.

It should also be remembered that even Pochettino struggled in his first few months at the club and every manager needs time to implement their approach.

In the here and now, though, Nuno is struggling with his hand and looking increasing out of his depth tactically, leaving him under intense pressure ahead of the visit of in-form Aston Villa on Sunday.

What are his options? He could try switching to a back-three and take a leaf out of Pochettino’s book by ruthlessly discarding under-achieving senior players such as Alli, Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso in favour of youth.

Second-half substitutes Bryan Gil and Oliver Skipp were the only minor positives, helping Spurs earn a second-half foothold and a way back into the match with Heung-min Son’s goal. Spurs were so poor that it was almost difficult to properly judge Arsenal, although some of their football during the first half was undoubtedly exhilarating.

Nuno Espirito Santo is already under pressure at Tottenham (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
Nuno Espirito Santo is already under pressure at Tottenham (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)

Most encouragingly, it was a performance in Mikel Arteta’s image, particularly the second goal, a slick move which started with goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and included a sublime flick from Aubameyang to the excellent Martin Odegaard, who raced forward and squared for the Gabon forward.

Arsenal included five of their summer signings in the starting line-up and introduced two more from the bench (none of Spurs’s summer signings started the game, another red flag), suggesting there is plenty more room for improvement.

It felt like a potential landmark result for Arteta, his first big derby win in front of fans, and far more convincing evidence that Arsenal have turned a corner than the narrow victories over Norwich and Burnley.

But for the Gunners consistency remains key and, while they can enjoy months of local bragging rights, the afternoon can only go down as a turning point if they follow it up against Brighton and Palace in the next two games.

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