Good News About My Kitchen. The Rest, Not So Much

A bad day. Far too many moments of slack-jawed horror, and always worse, the hope. Emerging from periods of extended pressure, the chances that came and went. It was too much. After their third capped their deserved win, I switched from pictures to the radio and furiously cleaned the kitchen, with particularly savage use of an abrasive cleanser on the sink. I found scant refuge but it was spotless by the end so at least my household was pleased. Horrible.

This is one game, and we should retain a sense of perspective. It’s our first league defeat since April, I believe. There’s no escaping, however, that the significance of this fixture goes way beyond local rivalry. It’s a benchmark to show how well we are doing. The home fixture near the end of last season felt utterly satisfying both in the manner of the win and the aftermath, what it meant for the team’s rise under Conte. Saturday’s match confirmed that this is still a developing side, albeit from a high base.

We played the side at the top of the table and we weren’t good enough. To reiterate something I said last month, I’m completely behind the manager but his approach is a tough watch at times. He allows sides to play in front of our penalty box, where danger lies and chances remain only a missed tackle away. It serves to compound the gut-twisting agonies of the NLD, as like the players, fans have to prepare to absorb the pressure. For me, I know no amount of anxiety-prevention techniques are going to scratch the surface. Leicester squandered the opportunities thus available, these opponents did not. There will be few occasions this season when a player hits one first time into the top corner, but they can if we are stretched in that area, and he did, and it was unstoppable.

That said, this formation provides opportunities and it could have worked. We defend a lot but we’re not defensive. Conte could easily have covered for Kulu’s absence with an extra midfielder. That would have been my preference in a 3-5-2, but he’s bold enough to play three up front, and it could easily have worked in a first half where we had several opportunities. Long ball it may be sometimes but it suits our attackers, only to be let down by a wayward final ball or indelicate touch. If Kulu had been fit, one of those at least would have materialised into a gilt-edged chance. But Sonny is still not on it despite the hat-trick, Harry’s legs are feeling the weight of so many long seasons, while Richarlison doesn’t possess the certainty of touch in the build-up.

Games at this level turn on moments. Possession, pressure, position xG, whatever you call it, in the end it’s about what happens in the key moments. So it could have worked but ended up being a tale of squandered opportunities, followed by lamentable failure when it mattered. Hugo has had a good season on his line and coming for crosses, whether he punches or catches, but he’s always had moments when he thinks about things for a fraction too long and ends up being lost in indecision. He did it the other week, was it versus Leicester, when he could easily have caught a long ball under no pressure whatsoever yet suddenly punched it wildly. On Saturday, he got down early only to leave it in the danger area, then let it through his legs. I’ve only seen it once but it’s seared in my memory.

Then Emerson obliged with a right Royal cock-up. The contest on the left between him and Martinelli was always going to be important. He defended well enough until then, but they must have got into his head. Why do it? Good question. I think he wanted to give Martinelli a reminder, a little tap when the ball wasn’t in a dangerous area, or am I being over-generous in believing there was any coherent thought process at all? It may or may not have been red (I thought it was), that’s not the point. Don’t even give the ref the option.

So the disappointment and anger of defeat was compounded by a feeling that after the end of last season, the tide is turning. In fact, it’s probably no more than the inexorable ebb and flow of fortune. A stat from Jonny Blain on twitter showed that since 2008, in the NLD the home team has won 17 and lost only 2, with 9 draws. No stat covers the feeling that we seldom do well in this fixture, which from our side has had more than its fair share of cockups and those moments where you are left wondering, what on earth happened then?

This is a long and unpredictable season. Due to the World Cup, the table won’t unwind until March as teams count the cost of top-class footballers being ground down. The injury list will be more significant than the fixture list. A long way to go, in other words, and Spurs have room to improve.

Meanwhile, Conte has to adjust for a side full of good players but weaker than his system requires in key areas, especially at wing-back. I’d opt for the occasional 3-5-2, giving us greater solidity with enough creativity and firepower up front. Alistair Gold said Bissouma wasn’t fully fit after international duty, so he couldn’t start. Skippy needs match practice but as with Pochettino, he’s not getting any. Later this month, there has to be some rotation, surely, so there are opportunities. I’m not the only one hoping Spence gets a chance with his strength and pace, something different to unsettle opponents.

And speaking of what ifs, what if a Spurs player were in the same situation as their first goalscorer? If I were in charge, I wouldn’t prioritise the need for a decent holding midfielder. I’d insist he stayed at home on full salary. As a fan, if he played I’d cheer my team to the hilt but wouldn’t rise to give this man an ovation. If I were the Spurs manager, I wouldn’t speak of how well this man had taken the strain. But I am only a fan. Do I think my club would have acted differently in the same situation? I like to think they would, but I don’t know. Presumably with Bissouma they knew he had no case to answer before signing him. But if I’ve learned anything over the years, it is, assume nothing. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. I don’t know precisely where that is in every case but I’d draw the line here.

13 thoughts on “Good News About My Kitchen. The Rest, Not So Much

  1. Hi Alan,

    Right up front I’m a Gooner – so you can stop reading right now if you wish. I’m not here to gloat.

    Alan Gillian was my boyhood hero when I lived in Scotland and he nearly won the European Cup for Dundee in the early 60s and I followed his progress in England and came to watch Spurs at WHL (never saw Gillie there unfortunately) when I moved to England, but circumstances conspired to my current red persuasion.

    One of my many thoughtful Spurs friends pointed your blog my way. You write well and I share and empathise with the emotions you endure and enjoy during the ebb and flow of the NLDs and the season as a whole. I read your thoughts on your home win earlier this year and, of course, found them to be less palatable (but no less sensible or balanced) than the offer below.

    A couple of thoughts.

    Your enthusiastic home win report elevated that highly impactful 3-0 result as high water mark and something of a turning point for Conte and his tactics. That was a sentiment that I had difficulty coming to terms with principally because of injury Arsenal were playing with a back four who hadn’t played before (and two of whom haven’t started since), without our most influential player (Partey) and with a very young lad at CF (Arteta had fired Aubamayang because of his disruptive influence – absolutely top leadership). To win at your place we will always need our best team, hence the different point of view.

    We had our strongest current team out on Saturday and it showed. The stats when Partey starts are excellent and I was very confident at kick off. I agree with you that our win was deserved. Honestly, I saw a technical capability in the Arsenal team’s skillset (that has been a feature of the season) that I didn’t see in Tottenham’s.

    I think Conte may well drive Spurs’ win rate higher and may well end up driving the team to a trophy. However, as a spectator, on Saturday I rather felt like I did when we used to play a Tony Pulis or Big Sam team under Arsene Wenger – pack the box, let Arsenal play across the field outside it, play a high ball up to a big lad etc etc and I never enjoyed paying money to watch that at all. Hopefully he won’t ever employ the Rory DeLap towel and long throw in!

    Good luck to you with your blog. I know that it isn’t easy to keep producing thoughtful contributions, particularly after a difficult result. I know it isn’t written with Gooner in mind but I’ll keep reading quietly in the background but won’t trouble you again.





    • You are very welcome to trouble me again with such considered comments, Ian. You’re not the only Arsenal fan who drops in every now and again, here and on twitter.

      My pleasure in the 3-0 performance was mainly about the way we got on the front foot and took over, inspired by the wall of sound from the fans. On Saturday, we failed at crucial moments and lost the game, albeit we may have lost anyway because your lot were better. We didn’t perform anywhere near our best, which is all I asked for.

      Your lot under Areta have been heavily scrutinised. For me, he was behaving like a rookie manager only in a prime job. He experimented with players and formations, mismanaged a few then realised he had to rightly get rid of them. He bought some expensive duffs and was unlucky with injuries in a relatively small squad.

      Now he’s got a team together, which takes time, ironically from our point of view motivated after the 3-0 and bad end to last season. Jesus was the signing that pulled his attack together and I said so at the time.

      Spurs have more to give. Conte’s system is not the most pleasing on the eye sometimes. It depends on all the parts working well, and Son and Kane are not on their best form. I’m not sure he has players good enough across the side to make it work as well as he wants.

      And if Gilly was your favourite, you’re a good judge, of players if not teams…

      All the best, Alan


  2. Thanks Alan. some decent situations after on back foot early on but a lot of pressure to get final pass right as at a premium, but the strikers we have are good enough to do this most days.

    Anyhow, 1-1 at HT I felt we were well placed. But, really, second best most of the day. Good coherent, confident, exciting team Arsenal this season tbf.

    That’s the way he wants to play, but this seems much more, I don’t know, passive or so happy to cede possession and territory and play counterattack I remember his Chelsea, Juve, Inter or Bari, Atalanta and Siena sides. Maybe Italy, but they unlike us had a lot of quite limited players. It works til it doesn’t and second half when it didn’t it looked bloody awful.

    Kane still isn’t at his most lively, but since Poch I feel we’ve wasted this fella. That he scores so many and contributes so much, often, with so little is amazing.

    A big European game to enjoy in the week and much else, so I’m not as despondent as I might sound. Always a treat to get a write up from you.

    All the best.


    • … much more, I don’t know, passive or so happy to cede possession and territory and play counterattack THAN I remember his Chelsea, Juve, Inter or Bari, Atalanta and Siena sides. My memory isn’t always the best, but he seems more wedded to low to mid block counter than at
      other times in the past.


    • Interesting about what he did in Italy, and like you, I don’t recall Conte’s Chelsea as being defensive, although they could defend. Think he doesn’t have as much faith in these players as he says he does in the media. All the best, Al


  3. We’re starting to sound like a stuck record here, aren’t we? After dodging a whole fusillade of bullets this season our luck finally run out. It’s all the more frustrating because as with Chelsea, Wolves, etc. we were overrun in midfield and the set up cried out for an additional midfielder to thicken things up and grind our way towards a point. Even with one less attacker the pairing of Kane and Son/Richarlison is still capable of a goal or two, especially when the stronger midfield is able to play higher up instead of falling back and back and inviting Martinelli to torture Royal. (Wasn’t a red card. Hardly a case of endangering a player or serious foul play. More of an orange but the ref flashed the card too quickly. Poor reffing). Overall, mustn’t grumble too much but keep your bucket handy Alan – next match up is away in Europe and we know what happens there…


    • Managed to watch the whole of yesterday’s game without cleaning anything. I would add another midfielder as you say, but Conte won’t and we were much better as a team yesterday, for the most part. I notice my wife has today bought a new mop and bucket – could be an omen…


  4. It’s been frustrating, apart from a couple of games, this season, as we’ve been overrun and out-pressed in midfield for large parts of matches (even at home against lesser teams). Yes, we’ve somehow achieved positive results but it’s a dour watch, mostly, Alan, especially if you believe in the Blanchflower mantra that ‘The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” Of course, as a Spurs fan since 1963, I’m a pragmatist too, especially having witnessed the ups and downs of my beloved club over the decades. Sure, winning ugly CAN often count. But it’s not sustainable if you’re anything less than a consistently top (and attractive) trophy winning club, plus it puts unimaginable pressure on our players if you’re playing that way most of the time. And besides, it really is not ‘Glory’!
    Let’s go back less than 2 years to just before Xmas 2020. We were top of the PL after 12 games and we all thought Mourinho had ‘cracked it’, having achieved results against City and other top sides through strategic defence and counter. BUT, we then continued those stressful (increasingly nervous, horrible and unnecessary) tactics against the likes of Palace away and for most PL games after, falling/tottering from those Xmas PL heights to 7th in April, and showing no spirit in the Carabao Cup Final against City. Well all that certainly did for Mourinho, a man who, in his PL death throes, had simply grabbed disaster from the jaws of success (and was sacked, deservedly, days before our Wembley debacle). OK, I look at Conte, and I appreciate he is STILL a top manager, but, just as Mourinho did, he is keeping the Spurs shackles on! And it’s a hard (deja vu) watch, because, as sure as eggs is eggs, we’re going to get found out again!
    We have better squad strength now, but we also remain unbalanced, as well as over-reliant on wingback and DM tactics suited only to precise counter-attack.
    Poor Harry! He must look at Haaland at City with envious eyes and think ‘how is this not happening for me?’. Arguably (along with Jimmy Greaves) he is Spurs’ greatest goal scorer (both at club and even England level), but who is there to create chances for him right now? Either at Spurs or for England? My God, both teams are so similar …it’s the Southgate and Conte ‘shackles show’ folks. At least England have one or two playmakers (even if not utilised properly) but not ONE creative final third playmaker at Spurs since Eriksen (and his sidekick Alli) peaked in late 2018. Not ONE (except a couple of expensive false dawns) to echo the exciting likes of Hoddle, Gazza, Ardiles, Modric and the Dane himself! In Conte’s system, Harry can’t even come back and be his own no. 10 anymore, and the Kane/Son show has been well and truly sussed.
    What a waste of of a genuine world class player! Why this has situation never been addressed? .. I don’t know! Oh sure, we have good defenders and excellent attackers, and we’re awash with OK DMs and decent, if inconsistent, wing backs, yet our failure to command central midfield and take pressure off our defence as well as inspire the forwards is plain to see. Even as a Plan B Conte option! I’d sacrifice 5 or 6 of our signings in the past 2 years for just one world class playmaker. We certainly don’t have the balance we had during the Poch years (one of the best Spurs’ periods I’ve witnessed, even without the deserved trophy or two). And yes, I’ve been moaning about our lack of creativity in the final third for 3 seasons, and, until we find that type of player again who can link the defenders, the DMs, the wing backs and the forwards, I’ll keep bloody moaning …because despite Conte’s reliance on wing back play. defend. hold and counter, eventual and sustained success will only stem from an imaginative MIDFIELD feeding our world class forwards!


    • Thanks as always, and I share your frustration. I’d play an extra midfielder to give us strength in the middle, allow the centre mids to get further forward and as a platform for Harry and Sonny. As I said, we have a lot of quality players but some in key positions aren’t good enough for what Conte wants them to do. Conte said as much yesterday after the game. We needs some back-up for Kulu because we’ve truly missed his passing ability. One solution is to alter the system until we get the players Conte wants. I’d do that as I say – but he won’t, and things would be a lot different if Son and Harry were anywhere near their form of last year.

      Regards, Alan


  5. I think its unanimous, we are tough to watch against strong opposition.

    Going back to the result, and looking at chances created, I thought we had the better quality chances. I thought only their 3rd goal was a conventional goal. Partey’s goal reminds me of Danny Rose’s goal against the same opposition- a rarity that we where on the receiving end of.

    During the match I felt the final result would be a draw like 2-2 which would have confirmed the trend of Spurs getting improved results against teams that we dropped points against last season.

    The only thing that disappointed me was the lack of initiative by our players to cover for the Emerson shaped hole before the substitutions. I think the buck stops with the Spurs captains on this one. Captaincy is not an arm-band, its a role….


    • Good point Tony, and agree – we were all over the place when Emerson went off and could have easily regrouped temporarily. Partly that is down to the manager, though – he can make himself understood from the bench. It’s a hard one to judge – as you say, if we had taken even one of those chances it would have been very different, and those chances came from our system working, however much it has been criticised lately.


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