Never Mind North London, The Future Is Ours

I didn’t see it coming. We’d been squeezed back into our own half from the very beginning, a dog on a leash struggling in vain to free himself.

From where I sit, you see every bead of sweat, each straining muscle, look into the players’ eyes and beyond, deep into their psyche and their soul, determination or fear, laid bare. I saw the pass but not where it would end up. I saw the red shirts, odd how they stand out, more so than the white, however bright. So much red and the only white was the ball itself. Then Lennon, scampering goalwards, so sudden, so perfect because in that instant I knew. Control as perfect as Greaves, gliding, in his stride. Bustle and rush, this frantic game paused for a long, lingering moment. The moment. Lennon looked up, saw an open goal. I looked up, saw an open goal, just as I see it now, eyes half-shut.

Felt the moment. In my ears, the roar. A powerful exultation from way down, expressing years, decades of frustration and misery, gone in that instant. The old ground shook and shivered around us, coming to life like an old soldier’s last hurrah, rediscovering the spirit and glory of past victories, buried but never forgotten. Seen it all before but knows there’s more to come.

Finishing above our rivals for the first time since 1995 carries a meaning and significance far greater than the parochialism of a win in the north London derby. Once, we were equals, with identical records in a fixture that dates back to the early years of the last century. Then they pulled away into the far distance, in the process winning not one but two Doubles at White Hart Lane. I was there for both and it hurt, my goodness me it hurt.

Now, there is an inescapable feeling that the balance of power is about to shift and this game was the tipping point. More precisely, around 4.35 on March 3rd 2013 was the tipping point. A relatively young Tottenham team is one for the future, packed with skilful players desperate to better themselves and loyal to manager André Villas-Boas. Contrast this with Arsène Wenger, a decent man unfairly criticised by sections of the media and his own fans but whose ideas appear jaded, his hitherto masterful judgement in the transfer market having finally failed to bring in enough players of sufficient quality. Never mind north London, the future is ours.

Derbies often don’t live up to expectations but you cannot say this about the north London derbies at Spurs in the last five years. Fantastic, breathless football with the quality enhanced rather than hampered by the frenetic pace. The 3-3 match was one of the best ever seen in the Premier League, two sides giving everything they had for 90 minutes.

Yesterday, Arsenal did not give everything and therein lies a significant difference between the sides and between Arsenal then and now. On top for the first half an hour, they beavered away in midfield and denied Spurs any room. We could not keep the ball and as in other matches recently, especially in the opponents’ final third where Adebayor singularly failed to rouse himself despite the usual inspiration of playing against his old team and Parker, the supposed reliable, was more flummoxed than the rest.

Our defence were exposed but rose to the task. Dawson and Vertonghen were magnificent throughout, unbeatable in the box. Superjan’s saving tackle on Giroud was miraculous. Time and again Dawson got to the ball first. Rock solid and they did as much as Bale and Lennon to win the match for us. Lloris, impeccable again, swept up the leftovers.

Both sides played a high line so the play was heavily compressed in the centre. Trying to get going, we fell back, playing the ball this way and that across the halfway line. Suited Arsenal – we were getting nowhere and it was only a matter of time before we gave it away under pressure. To counter Walcott’s pace, we had dropped back a little more than in previous games so everything moved five or ten yards closer to our goal. Dembele moved up a little towards the end of the half and had a good period either side of half time.

Bale gets all the attention. I noticed the hand-held camera following him at full-time when it should have been on Vertonghen and Dawson. However, the key is that somewhere in the last couple of months, Spurs have discovered the mysterious alchemy of resilience. We were not playing well but we did not concede. Not fluent but it was tight. Bale in fact was not allowed much time or space but the midfield stayed firm and the defence played as a unit.

Regular Spurs fans, just pause to consider one aspect of the last couple of paragraphs. The fact that I can write about a defence working as a unit. Pushing up, playing the high line, playing any tactic for that matter. Who would have thought it? Walker had the best game defensively he’s had for a long while. Anyway, something is working and that is down to our Andre.

But back to Bale. As we always do. Add a matchwinner to that resilience and we have a team capable of doing something. It’s the recipe of a successful side. Under pressure, we were at our most creative and turned adversity into goals. Bale on the end of Siggy’s pass and he took it like a classic goalpoacher. But what a pass – took 6 red shirts out of the game in a single moment. Lennon on the end of Parker’s pass – took out five red shirts in a single moment. I’ve read stinging criticism of Arsenal’s back four but they were two fine goals, perfectly timed runs onto passes of perfection.

The old Arsenal would have come back at us after the break but that sustained determination is missing. Don’t know exactly what it is but we’ve got it and they’ve lost it.

After taking over as the second half began, we stupidly gave away the sort of goal that makes my blood boil. On top but concede a needless free-kick and pathetic marking at the near post. Yet despite a couple of chances, our opponents’ opportunities were limted by sterling defence that got better as the match went on. The players look so fit they could have played another game straight way. In fact, once Defoe came on  (can’t get rid of the idea that Manu took the easy way out) we looked the more likely to score again, Bale putting it over at the far post after a stunning move from deep inside our half and Siggy showing the tell-tale signs of a man without confidence by passing when the only option was a shot.

Within the mayhem in the stands, something odd happened. About 80 minutes, I suddenly found a moment’s calm. Dawson and Vertonghen were winning everything. Perhaps Arsenal weren’t going to score after all.

Many articles over the weekend about the fit between Villas-Boas and Tottenham, favourably comparing his achievements with his time at Chelsea where the old guard did not take to his methods and Abramovich pulled the chair out from under him just as he was trying to get comfy. Undaunted, the young manager with the manner of an earnest, newly qualified teacher came to a club where he could express the ambition that burned inside him. He found a group of talented, maturing footballers of a like mind who were good but wanted to better themselves.

Similar pieces appeared here in Tottenham On My Mind before the season began. I added that we may have to wait awhile until it all came together. For once, I was right. The players have bought into the Villas-Boas way and so have I. At the end, we celebrated together, players chucking their shirts into the crowd, Dawson the last to leave the pitch. The old place may be on its last legs but on the good days it rocks like a proper football ground should, and this was one of the very best.

34 thoughts on “Never Mind North London, The Future Is Ours

  1. Spot on as ever Alan. And I had much the same thought as you about Manu when he went off. I simply cannot understand how he cannot be motivated, but when he is on the pitch we are effectively playing with 10 men. I hate to criticise our own, but I can’t see a future for him at Spurs, I really can’t. very disappointing. None of that should, however, take away from the quality of the win, the goals, the defending. What a day. Now we’ve got to finish the job and, with AVB, I agree the future looks bright.

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    • Martin, as you know I don’t castigate any of our players for the same reason but he has been awful, which I’ve described politely recently as ‘anonymous’. Thought this one might get him going but apparently not. Same goes for his place in the team – I reckon he likes being number one but again having been the first and only choice for several week has made no difference to him. And the disappointment comes because he can be so good.

      As you also know, I have no time for players who can’t be bothered and in that respect he sticks out like a sore thumb in this current Spurs side. They fought so hard in the final twenty minutes to hang on to what we had. Admirable all round, a great day indeed.

      Regards, Al

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  2. Even for you that’s a masterful piece Alan; captures the game and its intricacies and the wider mood brilliantly. As for so many years, we were still outnumbered in central midfield against them first half, making it very difficult to play it through them. The two goals showed that simple is best, though I don’t want to minimise the high technique and skill of the passes, runs and finishes. You are right to highlight them as the passes and movement were so good. We maade their defending look abject. Second half we looked a very clever, coherent and composed and tough as teak side with real quality and verve on the break. I liked it. A lot. There’s a lot of coaching gone on in that side and it’s terrific to see.

    Lennon definitely kick-started us yesterday and I made him our man of the match for that, just ahead of Dawson and Vertonghen.

    Onwards and upwards

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    • Cheers my friend, try to capture all aspects of the game in some way and the experience of watching it, which captivates even after all these years. And in this case the context made it so significant. I very seldom adopt the line that any one game is pivotal but the symbolism of this one went way beyond going 7 points clear.

      Regards, Al

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  3. If you look at the angle of Bale’s goal from behind you see Adebayor standing there…just standing there! No emotion whatsoever, very strange

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    • you know, this was exactly the case for Bale’s winner against West Ham. I kept getting drawn to him as I watched replays – near zero emotion at that goal too…

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  4. Nobody can be surprised about Adebayor – he gets games because he has great feet and may well be the best header of the ball in the league. But every club he’s been at, he starts well, then fades away to zero. It’s purely in his head. I don’t know if it means much to him apart from financing his lifestyle, charity work and so on.

    Arsenal for much of the game had the upper hand in midfield, the way they do – the triangles were a bit faster, the control a bit better. Means nothing without goals though, nothing at all. Their board will only wake up to the slow, steady decline of the side when/if they fail to qualify for the UCL. I don’t know if I want that or not 😉 As it stands, from the director’s point of view, they make money, the stadium is getting paid off and the shares pay out nicely. After all, the UCL TV money makes up nicely for winning anything. I imagine they’ve already priced up Jack Wilshere, ready to pay off another lump.

    I could stop watching in time added on because I knew they weren’t going to fade. And I tell you what else is against the natural order of things – a great defence but no strikers! That’s not the team I grew up with 😉

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    • The media have feasted on Arsenal’s problems, to Spurs’ detriment in that the focus should be on two beautiful goals not the problems in the Gunners’ back four. I dislike that approach that prevails in football these days. Sure people make mistakes but to neglect good football when it happens is wrong. It hardens attitudes against the game itself.

      Anyway, there has been a lot about what is going on behind the scenes and none of it is pretty. I took part in a fan’s forum on Goal.com yesterday and was chatting with an Arsenal blogger who wished us well for the season. Very unhappy with Wenger’s dictatorial reign at the club, which was born out yesterday by a journo in 5 Live saying that Wenger does not have their team doing the defensive drills any more and is total charge at the club. All the more reason why Our Andre is, well, ours.

      Regards, Al

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  5. Couldn’t agree more. It was a wonderful sight and a stirrer of memories. This was a Spurs side that did what was expected of them, and their defense conjured up the best days of Mackay and Blanchflower, Norman, Mike England, Roberts, Mabbutt, King and so on. For the first half hour the Arsenal pressed us hard, but I wasn’t too concerned. In fact, I was waiting for the counter ..and instead we got two. So many times in the past have Spurs come out of the blocks playing blistering all consuming football, only to get undone by teams awaiting their moment. This was clinical, patient and incisive stuff, however. We knew Arsenal had the better central midfield (oh, just think what we’d be like if we had another Modric) but we had the defense to stifle them and their attack, and the pace to hit them hard. Tottenham Hotspur has changed, and it’s down to AVB (and therefore, Levy). To have the Spurs name spoken with awe by neutrals has always been our aim, with no more remarks like ‘lovely football but no steel’. This team, this squad, HAS steel now ..as well as the bloody mindedness to compete in central midfield (even if not playing that well). Parker may not be reproducing his form from last season (missing terribly his axis with Modric) but his determination and resolve is worth much to the side. Dembele is, I think, still playing too deep (we have Parker for that) but again he is helping to smother the opposition and breaking forward dangerously. Siggy is still a bit lightweight but (his miss apart) did his bit all over the right hand side of the park, and centrally, and tried hard to get Ade involved. More games for him may bring out the confidence and belief that he lacks. AVB believes in him, so who are we to judge? Holtby will be fine too, although you could see in recent games he wasn’t sure how our midfield works or what was expected of him (that’s OK because neither Parker or Dembele have worked out how to play together yet). Yet for all this, we are strong! We have a ‘winning’ mentality! To think we that in defense we have waiting ..Caulker, Gallas, Norton and Dembele ..all straining at the leash to get involved, with Rose gaining experience. We have a Hud who might (just might) be inspired enough to both have a haircut and find the form he had a couple of years back! I don’t know if Livermore will get better, but, although I have my doubts, I believe he can do a job with all the positive vibes around him in the squad. Better games will come for Dempsey, especially with Defoe in front of him. And then there’s our wingers ..our game changers, our winners. Bale rightly gets most of the plaudits, but Lennon too has the ability to change the course of a game, and he can do so by coming inside like Bale, as well as beating any defender on the flanks. They are destructive and rank among the best we’ve ever had. Nice to see Defoe back ..creating chances as well as going for goal. Maybe his ebb and flow form will come back for these final 10 games!
    So, all in all, a wonderful time to be a Spurs fan, and surely (come the summer) we’ll secure a top striker and creative midfielder, as well as keep Bale. Does a tilt at the title beckon next year? But for now, top four and Inter Milan!!

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    • Nice summary Chris. Agree re Dembele playing too deep and at times it was a bit too quick for Siggy. But I’m holding fire on the title for a while yet….

      Regards, Alan

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    • Good point. We work well like that and can hit any team on the break. I do think we were pushed further back than we wanted, however, in that first 25 minutes.

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  6. Hi Alan. Couldn’t wait to see how you managed to sum up yesterdays game and as usual you seem to have got it spot on. Dawson’s performance yesterday took me back to my early days of watching “The Spurs” and one of the greatest players in my opinion to have worn the famous white shirt, the great Dave Mackay. Barrel chested, fearful of no-one and with a determination that inspired his team mates to a “No One will pass us today” attitude. Add into that the pace and power of Bale, Lennon and then Defoe along with the craft of Dembele and the assured calm of Hugo who i believe gives the defence much of their confidence i feel that the future is definitely brighter. Am even starting to believe that in AVB we might at last found that Special Manager who can take us on to even better things
    Btw if your moment of calm came in the 80th minute it was certainly over by the 81st as I seem to remember you leaping around like a demented lunatic, just like the rest of us were, for the remainder of the game
    Best regards

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    • Moment of calm is justified, the rest not so much! No one shall pass, nicely put. Daws and Vertonghen were outstanding, remarkable attitude and determination. And as you know, I am a huge Hugo fan.

      Great days, good to celebrate them in your company.

      Regards, Al

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  7. They didn’t look too bad to me going forward, but lack players that can win a tightly contested game. We have Bale, Lennon, Dembele; Arsenal don’t have RVP, Fabregas etc. You say they didn’t give everything. I think it’s due to a lack of confidence in their back four. They had a sustained period of possession in the second half, got one back and looked threatening. It had 2-2 written all over it. Then we made a couple of counter attacks and they backed off for a while until they absolutely had to risk everything. It was enough to catch our breath and set ourselves up for those last ten minutes.
    We had to win that game, not just in terms of the Premiership but in terms of finally stepping up to the mark as a team. We’ve gone into too many of these matches as a side with promise but failed to deliver in the big games.
    Overall we’re looking stronger in the second half of the season than the first. Bale is on fire but we’re also far more solid at the back, more assured in those last 10 mins. We can make a tactical adjustment when things aren’t right. I just wish Sandro was fit. We’re missing his ability to bring the ball out and find a decent pass. Although Parker seemed to get forward more yesterday, he still gave the ball away a lot. It was the only critical note apart from another anonymous performance from Adebayor.
    The Bale and Lennon goals were beautiful passes but let’s give the defence their day. Vertonghen and Dawson were regal yesterday. Vertonghen is the new Ledley for me in terms of ability. Some of those tackles were just wonderful. Given he’d been on a yellow card for most of the game, it showed a high level of confidence. Dawson is becoming the new Ledley in terms of his leadership and graft. He isn’t, to my mind, the most technically gifted defender but his commitment to his cause is outstanding. It’s a credit to him that he stayed in the summer and has worked on his game and also to AVB, who obviously didn’t fancy him at first, for being prepared to work with what he’d got.
    I’ve been a season ticket holder for 25 years. I’ve seen every home derby. Each year I thought about the two squads and how many of our players would realistically get into the Arsenal side, in the darkest days, one or two. In the last year or so, I’m reframing the question. How many of that Arsenal side would get into the Spurs squad? I’m loving the answer.

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    • Agree with all of that, Pete. Lots of comments make the point about leadership on the pitch, especially important as Parker is not offering that this season. Re the Gunners. they looked flattened after conceding and even pulling one back did not galvanise them as much as I thought it would.

      After 25 years, promise delivered?

      Regards, Al

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  8. Look – I REALLY am sorry to be such a miserable git, but aren’t we doing the open-top bus tour just a little prematurely (as usual)? We’ve got a very difficult run-in, plus the little matter of Inter Milan, and yet people on various sites are posting about third, or even second in the PL, because fourth is already as good as ours. For God’s sake, how can you be a Spurs supporter, witnessing more false dawns than a false dawn chorus, and still be so happy to count our unhatched chickens? If we’re still third (or fourth) when this season’s final whistle has blown, I’ll be as happy as anyone, but please stop tempting providence – there’ll be ‘Mind the Gap’ T-shirts on show at WHL on Thursday at this rate!

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    • heh heh, you’re right of course but as Martin says, the people I chat with are enjoying the moment and looking forward not back but are not going overboard. We’re not playing as well as we could be, for example, because Manu and Parker are off the pace. But a little optimism is surely justified.

      Regards, Al

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  9. Hi, Arsenal fan here. Thought Id look for a spurs blog and this is the first one I found. The blog written by Alan is very good, pretty much spot on. I found myself nodding along as I was reading it. To be honest I thought Id find a blod full of hate but it was so refreshing to read through honest and fact based sentences. Im not sure about the balance of power shifting, for sure I believe you will be finishing 3rd or 4th this season, but we’ve been up there for a long while now. Dont see a reason why spurs cant carry on finishing up in the top 4 for years to come though. One last thing to add, its no real surprise to me to read what you spurs supporters are saying about adebayor! Its like reading an arsenal message board from a few years back. Its a shame, he has such talent, he can finish, fantastic in the air, hes not too slow either. Good physical presence etc etc but sometimes you just get the feeling he doesnt want to be there? Maybe his mind just wonders off, the amount of times he was caught offside when he was with us was a joke! 5 times every game it felt like. Anyway, good to read your blog. Many thanks.

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    • Very kind, Andy. This blog is always like this. Celebrate a win passionately but can’t see the point of abuse for abuse sake. I am the only author on this old-fashioned, single voice blog so over time I guess my character comes out. But I really want to win. Too much at times even though I’m old enough to know better.

      Shame re Manu – we really thought he was happy here and that all those warnings from Gunners and City fans would not come true. Such a disappointment.

      Kind regards, Al

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  10. As always, a pleasure to read. Never want to see a Spurs player get stick, but it’s just not working with Eman. He occasionally runs with intent, but is far often just too lacsidaisical or not up to the speed of the game and comes off second best. Contrast with Lennon, a player half his frame getting back, winning headers and generally showing an interest. In the same way Sandro had to do the job of two men with Huddlestone alongside him, Bale is effectively working for two with Adebayor. We looked much sharper when Defoe came on.

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    • Thanks Michael. Lennon has been excellent all season. he was a player I liked but did not think he would get better, and I was wrong.

      Regards, Al

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  11. What a game and what a result! Great piece, and I would agree that too much focus is on Arsenal’s decadent backline and not on the skill and precision of both goals. I think Sigurdsson deserves a mention among all the others. Surprised he doesn’t get a mention, especially considering most would have tipped Holtby for a starting place. Great vision by AVB recognising the need for his workrate and discipline, where maybe Holtby would have been out of position somewhat more, given his tendency to drop deep and work in from the wings. Sig really is due credit for waiting patiently in the wings when Dempsey and then Holtby were the preferrred choice. It’s his beautifully-timed pass which is something our midfield has lacked this season, and I think with rotation needed he is going to go on a run which could make up for Bale’s move into the centre.

    For the rest of the team, we didn’t have a single bad performance, and each character is now established within the squad. The one thing we have a lack of in our squad is ego (Adebayor aside, though even before he went off he was showing signs of holding the ball up well – I will be surprised if we see much of him next season, though. Sadly, a shadow of last season; cue loan transfer to The Middle East or Sunderland in August…) which for the likes of Man City, Chelsea – and post-Ferguson Man Utd, no doubt – will always be the case. Let’s hope we keep it that way when we finally do arrive on the world stage again.

    For me, Dawson is the hero. Ironically, his story is similar to that of AVB: doubtful at the start of the season, then growing in confidence as he won his rightful place back in the side, just as AVB proved his critics wrong – even those impatient new blood ‘supporters’ booing the team off in some of the early home games. It’s no coincidence that since his re-emergence as Spurs Captain our defence, team, and manager have become far more resolute – harder to beat. He is the new heart of this team and I hope his bravery is rewarded next season. Every winning team needs its Lionheart captain, and yesterday showed that nobody else in the team embodies this more so than the boy from Yorkshire. Just to think we almost lost him…

    This has been the greatest moment in my 34 years as a Spurs fan and now it looks like the dawn of great things for Tottenham.

    COYS

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  12. Hi Alan.
    Word for word, “Brilliant” ,and as usual a joy to read. For me you are the best read out of all the blogs
    I was at the game yesterday, and still on a massive high.
    Got to say, proud of all players yesterday, and as you say mate, well done kyle Walker.
    Jamie Redknap said on sky that, had Arsenal had our defence they would have won the game. Not sure that would of been the case under AVB, as the man for me is a genious , and who knows how to get the best out of the squad.
    Still cannot believe that I ever doubted AVB, just so glad that he is proving me wrong.
    COY MIGHTY SPURS 🙂

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    • That’s very kind. Lots of good blogs out there – Jimmy g2, Spooky on DML, Foxy and the Lustdoctor right up there. We are all different and that’s what makes blogging good to read and good to write, glad you were able to be there to enjoy the game in person.

      Regards, Al

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  13. I just loved it. The passion was oozing from our players.
    Just keep playing this way and with a little luck and beating Man City we can come 2nd.
    COYS

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