The white-hot heat of the North London Derby inspired a young Tottenham side to one of the finest displays of teamwork for many a long year. Ar****l were shattered, groggy, punchdrunk as Spurs were on the edge of a famous victory. Unable to deliver the final blow, a moment’s weakness and the win slipped away. The memory of the performance will live long not only in the minds of supporters but more importantly in the heads of the players, who surely will take from this the confidence to say, we can do it, stick together and bring them all on.
At full-time I was bursting with pride and contorted with frustration. 24 hours on, I’m still full of praise for a manager and squad who under scrutiny showed what they can do and what’s still to come. I had high hopes for the team’s potential but no idea it would be realised so soon. They have exceeded all my expectations and perhaps their own.
Yet the disappointment remains. Before kick-off, an away point, that will do, at the final whistle it was two points dropped. The defence, a pillar many times this season, eventually succumbed to another of a series of inswinging crosses. Up front, we failed to put away another goal that would have been richly deserved.
All did well, a few were outstanding. Dele Alli, £5m from League 1, 19. Fearless. Hanging back to begin with, he timed his movement forward with the nouse of a veteran. Five games ago he was keen but untutored. Now he’s a mainstay of the side. That’s taken him five games.
Who amongst us thought we would live to see the day when Moussa Dembele was pressing in the 91st minute? Never has the redemptive power of teamwork been demonstrated more effectively than in the Belgian’s recent performances. A man transformed, he’s transfixed us with his power and grace, a muscled hunchback stooped over the ball as he dares allcomers to take it from him. Second half, he fashioned an attack on the left corner of the Arsenal box. It broke down, they shifted it right and who charged across to cut out the danger.
Lamela worked tremendously hard and to good effect. One swaying run nearly broke through. In the end he was so excited, he was booked and had to come off for his own protection. Next time, push on, one touch fewer near the box and put your foot right through it. Not his nature, just hit it. Eriksen running for the whole game, bringing those shrewd passes into play.
Kane masterful on his own, not content with bringing the ball down, he has to turn away from his man in the same movement. He took his goal calmly, running onto to a long curling ball from Rose and slotting it past Cech’s left leg. Two or three years ago, remember Rose, a rabbit in the headlights caught on the halfway line and dispossessed for a goal. How things have changed.
But this was all about the team. As one player advanced, another ran into space, a third unobtrusively fell back to cover. Graham Hunter’s interviews on his podcast allow his subjects to stretch out, to think over what’s on their mind about the current game before they say it, a rare opportunity these days despite the abundance of material available. Graham Souness, his most recent subject and young player who Spurs went to great lengths to sign then let slip through their fingers, was tough physically, uncompromising mentally and delightful on the ball. In short, everything Tottenham needed when he was in his prime for Liverpool.
When asked about how that great side went about things, two points stood out. One, they concentrated on what they could do and didn’t worry about the other side. Two, the message was ‘find the dope’. Someone in the other side, however able, would switch off mentally when they thought they could get away with it. Find that weakness and exploit it.
Find me a dope in Sunday’s Spurs side. You’d be hard pressed. The coherence of their team ethic was determined and sustained. Working as a unit without the ball, from the kick-off they never allowed Arsenal to settle on the ball. The pack hunted Cazorla out of the game and left Ozil a desperate, isolated figure with only a marginal influence on the game.
Arsenal came back into things after the break, buoyed by a couple of near misses. Past Spurs sides would have wilted. This one came back to play our best football around the hour mark and beyond. Eriksen’s shot slid past the far post, Alli a fraction over. Cech beat away another powerful effort from the Dane, who then set up Kane with a slicing pass but Harry dragged it wide from a position where’s he’s usually comfortable.
Son came on like a Spaniel puppy eager to please and just as ill-disciplined. He left gaps on our left, in comes the cross and Gibbs bundled over the line at the far post. Walker who had another good game and kept Sanchez under wraps, was caught between two opponents to cover and couldn’t deal with what was in any event a fine deep ball. Next time, cut out those crosses at source.
I can’t recall a time when the team played with such continued cohesion. Pochettino in conveying his rigour and discipline to his young charge has changed a culture. Spurs are all about the individual, the star with flair and panache to brighten up our afternoons and take our minds off how ordinary the rest of them are. MP deserves huge credit: unreservedly remarkable.
Tottenham supporters have every reason to be proud. Fans of other teams, mostly, still see as big-time wannabees with over-inflated aspirations. Perhaps they look afresh at Spurs as showing the way, spending within our means and cultivating a group of young players to come through into the first team, several of whom are English.
We began the day optimistic, ended it as much more than that, as real contenders, a side opponents will worry about. Two points dropped and plenty to do in the future but cast-iron evidence of substantial progress and plenty to look forward to. For now, that will do nicely.
One final thought. In these days of instant gratification and hubristic expectation, consider this. Pochettino has taken nearly 18 months to get this far, in the process changing a culture and dumping half a team of expensive ballast overboard, and there’s still a long way to go. Football fans would do well to look to this example the next time they reach for their keyboard and take to Twitter.
The Spursshow pod recorded at the London Sports Writing Festival this Saturday at Lords with good friend of TOMM Julie Welch, John Crace, Terry Gibson and Gary Mabbutt, talking about Spurs and being a Spurs fan. Should be good, I will be there too.