White Hart Lane, London — It finally happened for Tottenham. After a decade of near-misses; twenty-two long years in total. From gut-churning lasagnes to Alan Sugar’s Tweets about phantom goals at St. James’ Park. From wiped-out 10 point leads to final day collapses; we’ve seen it all.
But now, at last, Spurs will finish above their old North London nemesis. Arsène Wenger said it was a case of simple mathematics that this day would eventually come, but boy, Tottenham fans must’ve wondered.
At a soon-to-be bulldozed White Hart Lane yesterday, the last North London Derby at the famous ground, we perhaps witnessed a neat showcase of the two clubs’ current flight paths. A distillation of two managers’ philosophy and influence.
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The home side, Spurs, loaded with dizzy, shark-eyed confidence. Driven and highly-motivated. Following Mauricio Pochettino’s game plan, note-perfect, as they have all season. Arsenal, on the other hand, were cut adrift. No distinct through-line connecting Wenger’s tactics— whatever the hell they were — and the actions of his players.
Danny Murphy’s autopsy of the Frenchman’s muddled system was damning and precise: ‘you have a group of players who [tactically] don’t know what they’re doing’.
Spurs have recorded more points (17 clear and counting), scored more goals and have more wins on the board than Arsenal this season. They’ve conceded fewer, have a greater goal difference and a better record against the Top 7. By any statistical framework, Tottenham lead the way.
Following this supposedly symbolic victory, there’s been a predictable demand for that timeworn question to be answered: has there been a power shift in North London?
Erm, well, maybe not just yet.
For all those numerical edges Spurs can claim over their rivals this year, Arsène Wenger still has a trump card to throw down. Trophy count. It won’t have escaped the notice of Tottenham fans, that Arsenal play an FA Cup final later this month. Victory would be their 3rd in the last four years.
While another domestic cup mightn’t be enough to sedate the belligerent Wenger Out brigade for another summer, for supporters of their honour-starved rivals, it would be something of a miracle. An anomaly, at least.
Since Spurs’ FA Cup victory in 1991, their only other nibble of silverware has been the pair of League Cups they won in 1999 and 2008. That’s two minor trophies in a quarter-century. By any measure, let alone for a club aspiring to be considered among the elite, a late-90s Worthington Cup triumph shouldn’t be the half-sum of 26 years’ work.
Indeed, stating that Spurs are the better side doesn’t even strike as a particularly impressive boast anymore. Of course they are. Newsflash: Arsenal aren’t very good. But until Tottenham can start ornamenting their trophy room with some new exhibits, something they’re more than capable of, talk of a North London power shift is always likely to be premature.
As Pochettino suggested before the weekend’s NLD: Tottenham’s aspirations should reach higher than finishing above Arsenal. He has them on the right track.