With vulnerabilities exposed and confidence fragile after a traumatic evening in the company of Bayern Munich, Arsenal were expected to respond. They’ve dealt well, for the most part of this season, at delivering in the league. But Mauricio Pochettino denied them any chance of that by strangling their midfield and crippling the rest of the team through that.
Tottenham’s midfield of a centre-back, a teenager and at times a luxury player. Dier, Alli and Dembele played as a cohesive unit when in theory their Bielsista coach is shoving square pegs in round holes. The trio cantered up and down stopping and starting moves. They coursed with electrifying energy, disrupting Arsenal of any rhythm and limited their midfield. Santi Cazorla suffered from dizziness in the first half as the Spurs players swept briskly across the pitch.
This game provided us with the suggestion that Spurs were dissolving the inequality between the rivals. Arsenal were very much at Spurs’ mercy for most of the game. Alexis and Campbell were isolated from the middle pack and Arsenal submitted to losing control of the centre. The very essence of the game was an aggressive tactical approach that strong-handed the guests’ for most of the game. But for all this dominance, Spurs firstly didn’t manage to win against an Arsenal side limited by injuries, and secondly, could quite easily have lost this game. Arsenal switched to an unexpected plan B and made the most of wide positions – whipping balls into Giroud.
Regardless of how you look at the game, there must be some concern cast over Tottenham’s failure to win. In that sense, the gap between North London’s elite isn’t closing.
For all my pessimism, I’ll bring some Pochettino optimism into the equation now. His team have a structure, a blueprint, call it what you want but he’s putting a plan in motion to usurp their rivals. They have an average age of under 25, with a lot of their key players reaching important formative periods as players. Lamela’s learning to be more efficient in possession, Kyle Walker – ever so slightly – is showing more positional awareness, and Dier’s applying his trade further upfield.
Within context of his system, the Argentine is getting the most from his squad. With this comes an identity with which one associates Tottenham Hotspur. That’s not been a familiar aspect of their recent teams, fighting for fourth. Spurs have the flexibility at board level to harness this identity and create a corporate culture around it. You cannot dispute the fact that Spurs need economic success alongside all of this and they have the squad to do that, not just on the pitch, profiting from the marketability of their youthful, modern squad.
That’s where Spurs need to ‘Mind the Gap’. Arsenal have developed themselves into a global brand with worldwide influence. Inevitably that follows an uninterrupted string of annual Champions League appearances and Pochettino could begin that now. Chelsea won’t recover enough to make top 4, Everton don’t have the consistency to challenge and Liverpool – a more talented outfit on paper – will have to be patient with Jürgen Klopp getting it right. Tottenham need to make top 4 this season for real progress – assuming they don’t get dealt the blow of a superior Italian coefficient in Europe stealing the Prem’s fourth spot in Europe.
With Champions League participation comes Champions League perks. The added revenue stream from competition participation and television rights is essential to a club that generates most its revenue from player sales. From TV rights and gate receipts alone Arsenal’s turnover was £96m north of their rivals’ in 2014. And, according to Forbes, amongst the 15 richest football clubs in the world, Spurs generate the least amount of revenue from commercial sales.
Their new stadium, which will be one per cent bigger than the Emirates, is the tool that will launch this global expansion – even Wenger has admitted it. Paying off stadium debts means a period of crippled finances – albeit not as bad as Arsenal, because Spurs have some funding from their NFL partnership – is one that will dictate their future. In times of financial restriction, every scouting operation and player purchase will be considered that little bit more, and expectant of results. Daniel Levy’s been entrusted with millions before and my goodness has he cocked it up before. You can decide whether that pun was intended.