Let’s not crown Tottenham world champs quite yet

In November 2006 it was party-time for Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce. He was at the height of his “hoodoo” over Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and his team would soon have its best ever night against the Gunners. In the previous 6 matches, Arsenal had only won once (a 1-0 win in the FA Cup which they would go on to win) and had lost three times. It was a proud record for both Allardyce and Bolton, this was the Arsenal team who were recently “Invincibles” and during this run could still call on legends like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Jens Lehmann, Freddie Ljungberg, and Robert Pires. And yet despite that impressive lineup and pedigree, Bolton were one of the few teams anywhere in the world who were consistently getting results off Arsenal.

Bolton scored first on a header off a corner to some giant lump of a defender. Their part time center forward, and full time thug, Kevin Davies shoved over Arsenal’s fullback Emmanuel Eboue but somehow only got a yellow. Then former Arsenal forward Nicolas Anelka struck a wonder goal from outside the box when Eboue didn’t close him down. With the lead secured, Allardyce’s me sat back and defended their goal for all they were worth.

Arsenal clawed one back when Gilberto rose above the fray to meet Fabregas’ cross but it was Bolton with the last laugh: a perfectly placed ball from about 60 yards found the streaking Anelka who struck another super goal past Kolo Toure and Jens Lehmann.

That record over Arsenal was such a proud achievement in Sam Allardyce’s career that he dedicated a chapter to it in his autobiography, bragging how he kicked Arsenal off the pitch and had, each time, spent the previous week figuring out how to nullify Arsenal’s attack. The former tactic is simple but the latter no small feat and one which deserves praise – he managed to keep one of the most potent Arsenal attacks of all time scoreless.

Bolton’s main tactic was to invite Arsenal to attack, defend in the low block, and as soon as the ball crossed the half-way line, they would put pressure on the midfield. This forced Arsenal to attack wide, inviting Arsenal’s fullbacks into the final third, and thus freeing space for the counter attack. Counter attacks were performed with a minimum of players, usually one or two, and with just one or two passes, thus maintaining the team’s “discipline” and shape so that Arsenal couldn’t counter the counter.

It’s a tactic that wasn’t even remotely new when Allardyce revived it – the infamous Charles Reep once convinced all of England that attacking moves should take no more than two or three passes – and it’s a tactic that lives on to this very day. Broadly speaking, weaker teams will often sit deep in the low box and invite the opposition to attack. They will then hit the team on the counter or try to beat them with a set play. There are several hallmarks of such a game: low possession numbers, low passing percentage, a huge number of clearances, a lot of luck, and the most important part – they can’t concede first. If the counter-attacking team concedes first the opposition can then just return the favor and sit back.

I have no hatred for counter-attacking football. Mourinho’s Inter used counter-attacking to win the Champions League. Chelsea used it to win the Champions League. Atletico Madrid won La Liga as a countering team. Leicester used it to win the Premier League. And even Arsenal, who are portrayed as elitist, used the defense-first approach to win the FA Cup against Man U in 2005 and have since played a counter-attacking style of football against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Man City, and a host of other teams domestically and in Europe. Counter-attacking is a basic tactic but it does require a specific skill-set and to be successful it requires a special set of players.

The players have to be fast – both in feet and mind – they have to be able to break quickly, find their teammate, and continue to make their run so that they can get the ball back. That sounds simple but it’s not. It takes practice to get this down pat.

Tottenham Hotspurs beat the current Champions of Europe 3-1 on Wednesday and they did so using exactly Bolton Wanderers formula: they were tough and even a little dirty, they invited Real Madrid to attack, they took the ball back, and they hit Real on the counter, exploiting acres of space with their scintillating speed and quick, decisive passing. And like Bolton they were also very lucky.

Those of us who watch the Premier League have seen this time and again from Tottenham. Whenever they face a team they think they can exploit, Spurs will counter them. And they are good at it. Dele Alli epitomizes everything about this Spurs side: he is wiry and fast, he’s much more technically gifted than people give credit, and he’s got grit – not only will he get under the skin of the opposition with snide challenges but he will also be the one who fights to get on the end of the cross to score his team’s first goal, which is exactly what he did against Real Madrid.

But there’s a wrinkle which separates the Boltons from the Tottenhams. A team like Bolton can only ever play one way. They just don’t have the personnel, nor the budget, to make a team that could hold on to possession and attack relentlessly. That’s why 2006 Bolton has to score first, if the opponents score, they are unable to change shape efficiently and get back into the game.

Tottenham have the ability to play possession football. They are currently third in the League in possession with 58% and when they face one of the “bottom 14” clubs in the Premier League, they dominate them with possession and an acute pressing game. But when they face a team that they think is better than them they play almost exactly Allardycian – they not only seek to nullify the opponent’s best players but the very game itself, killing the clock as much as the opponent’s attack.

But while everyone is praising Tottenham for beating Real Madrid – the back-to-back Champions of Europe – this was just one game and hardly represents “Spurs announcing themselves” as manager Mauricio Pochettino proclaimed. This same Spurs team was held to a 1-1 draw with Burnley this season – a Burnley side who played the exact same Allardycian tactics as Spurs played against Real. And this was a Spurs team beaten 1-0 by Man U – where they were given a lesson in countering football by the Greyhound Bus Driver himself, Jose Mourinho. And even in this match against Real Madrid they were lucky: their first goal was clearly offside, the second was a deflection, and Moussa Dembele should have seen a red card for an egregious kick.

I’ve now seen five articles in the Guardian – a paper not given over to bursts of emotion – proclaiming this Spurs side everything from the heirs of Bielsa to suggesting that this is the herald of some new Premier League era in Europe. Heady stuff from what looks to have been a bit of a lucky win. Perhaps it is the sign of something new – Spurs are not Bolton 2006, they can play football when they want and they have far more talent than Bolton ever dreamed of.

But there’s the small problem of Manchester City still at the top of the table, playing Guardiolaball at its finest. City aren’t relying on lucky offside calls or deflected shots to win games. They don’t sit back and allow the opponent 20 shots, clog the middle, shove people over, slap them in the face, or kick them into the sky. They don’t talk about “heart” and “pashun” to win matches. They apply themselves; slowly, methodically, like an apple press, squeezing every last drop out of the opponent and crushing them into a fine sauce.

Back in 2006 Sam Allardyce said after beating Arsenal that he had a simple blueprint: “They always get irate when you upset them and that is why other teams have copied what we do,” said Allardyce. “You know that they will lose their cool and composure and, when they do that, you know you have got a chance.” Allardyce had cribbed this tactic from his good buddy Alex Ferguson. Fergie had “invented” it years before when Arsenal were the dominant team in England, and used thuggery and counter-attacking to beat Arsenal in what should have been their 50th match undefeated.

So, despite Tottenham’s undeniable skill, that’s the real tactic on display. It was simply brutalist, Allardycian, football. And I say that without hatred. You can play football however you want, it’s up to the opposition to beat it. Arsenal fans got yet another lesson in that last night as Red Star Belgrade played exactly to Big Sam’s formula and held the Gunners scoreless.

In two-weeks time Arsenal will get a chance to see if they learned the lesson as they get to travel to the home of the world champion Tottenham Hotspur.

Qq

54 comments

  1. Sorry, Tim, those grapes look a bit sour.

    Unless I haven’t been paying attention, I haven’t heard anyone say that Spurs are ready to be world champions. And playing Allardycian football to beat Real is actually a compliment to them tactically. I’m in the Brad Gilbert camp when it comes to winning. If we’d beaten Bayern ugly over two legs last season instead of getting creamed 10 -2, I can assure you that zero gooners would have cared.

    Shard got all huffy yesterday about gooners noting that Spurs is a significantly better team than us at the moment. But it’s true. No one is saying they’ve reinvented Cruyffian total football, but man, their rise is impressive.

    The lesson for us in that is that we need to freshen up at the manager level. And a world class striker is worth its weight in gold.

    Btw, I think we’ll get a draw at Spurs.

    1. I would’ve cared. Winning ugly very occasionally is ok of course (because inevitable) but I watch football to be entertained. I literally do not understand the mindset of a football fan that says “hey we win ugly and I don’t care as long as we win.” In every area of life, ugly things are to be avoided and resisted, and beautiful things are to be sought after and celebrated. And this isn’t simply pie in the sky romanticism, but perfectly pragmatic: since football is a game that literally DOESN’T MATTER beyond the enjoyment and entertainment it gives us, I have no interest in following a team just for the sake of mean-spirited, apeish, irrational tribalism. If they can’t entertain and even enchant me on a regular basis, they are quite literally no use to me. No doubt many will claim that simply getting one over on other teams and other teams’ fans gives them great enjoyment, but I think you have to be a very small person indeed (hello, Jose) to take any great pleasure from this all by itself. I’m not saying winning isn’t important: success is extremely satisfying when it feels like validation for the positive, enjoyable way the team has chosen to play, and losing despite playing well feels dispiriting and often unjust. But I fell in love with playing and watching football when I was seven because it was one of the most fun things I had ever encountered, and later because it was capable of moments of sublime beauty. Watching a group of grown men bend the rules, kick their opponents, and generally act like d*cks towards them, or set out to play a thoroughly negative, stifling, cynical, and boring tactic and style (and often get rewarded for it) is neither beautiful nor fun.

      And I like Brad Gilbert a lot, but there are fundamental differences between tennis and football: even the most prosaic grinder on a tennis court regularly plays matches that are pretty entertaining (at least to me). Football teams like West Brom are ALMOST NEVER entertaining to watch. In one sense of course there is not one “right way” to play, but how a football team sets out to play matters so much precisely because football is the sport above all others that is most capable of both the transportingly lovely and the eye-bleedingly boring and unpleasant.

      1. To clarify, I was not criticizing the current Spurs team per se for being negative or ugly (though I think several of their players are nasty pieces of work and I hate the way that cynical tactical fouling seems to be built into the heart of their tactics and style). They’re a good side capable of good football. I was rather just getting a broader philosophical point off my chest.

      2. Are you honestly trying to tell me that you’d prefer we played pretty football and lost against a team like Bayern, than to win by making the tactical adjustment to ugly but effective?

        1. Wow, Claude, Jack, and Friends, talk about fighting a courageous battle against a host of straw men (or am I not allowed to say the ‘s’ word around here any more? I can’t remember)!

          In no particular order:

          1. Claude: false dilemma. I detest losing and boring football in equal measure. But OF COURSE if we have to play backs to the wall stuff for a game or two en route to a CL title, I’d take it. As I said, you have to win ugly every once and a while. But I’d hardly be thrilled JUST by beating Bayern in, say, the round of 16, if it meant we had to play like Allardyce/Pulis to do it. The reason is obvious: I don’t enjoy watching (I’m not “inspired by” if you prefer) Allardyce or Pulis’s style of football. It’s ugly. Call me crazy, but I don’t enjoy ugly things (if you think it’s not ugly, then that’s fine; but what makes no sense to me is thinking it’s ugly AND wanting to watch it, as long as it leads to wins). However, if an ugly win against Bayern meant we went on to win the CL, and play pretty attractive football overall while doing so, then I’m fine with that, and I’d be over the moon with winning the CL, of course.
          Lastly: would I be all that thrilled about winning the CL the way Chelsea did a few years ago, with basically boring, negative, luck-riding football throughout? No, I wouldn’t.

          1. Since the choice posed related to a specific set of circumstances against a specific, manifestly superior opponent — and since no one suggested that ugly and Allardycian becomes our signature style (your very own man of straw), — it sounds like you agree that winning ugly has its place.

            Btw, you misread Gilbert’s book, and philosophy. It’s not only about tennis.

          2. Claude, I’ve never read Gilbert’s book so I couldn’t have misread it. I just assumed I had a rough idea of what you were referring to based on what I know about BG’s ideas, and I would say they apply better to tennis.

          3. Claude,
            The point of pointing to Allardyce and asking if we’d be ok playing that way regularly is not a straw man, even if no one is explicitly claiming that. Rather, it’s meant as a counterexample to a certain principle that I think is being implicitly and explicitly defended by a number of folks on here, namely:

            “Ultimately, when it comes right down to it, results trump any allegiance to an entertaining style. Sure, we want both, and think we should be able to have both a decent amount of the time, but when we can’t have both, it’s the result that matters.”

            I’m simply pressing on how far you guys are willing to embrace this principle: if winning the CL meant playing Pulis-ball* through the entire length of the knockout stages (since, after all, most/all of the teams we’d face would be as good or better than us), or winning the PL meant playing Pulis-ball in EVERY GAME that involved a top 6 (or even top 10) opponent, would you really be satisfied?

            OF COURSE it would still be nice to win, but would it really be significantly better (or better at all) than playing glorious, champagne football and just falling short?

            *Note: when I say “Pulis ball”, I’m NOT talking about adopting a slightly more conservative, counterattacking approach, e.g. the way we played when we beat City 2-0 at their place a few seasons back. I’m talking full on parking the bus, tactical fouling, roughing up opponents, playing for free kicks, time-wasting, launching the ball into the box at every opportunity, cynically fouling opponents in the box when you know the ref won’t call it, etc. Assuming we’re never actually cheating, how long would you be able to put up with THAT kind of style from your team, if the team were winning? And if you think that there’s all the difference in the world between that and just being more disciplined/cautious in certain games, then you too accept that results DON’T always trump style; at most we’re just disagreeing about where precisely to draw the line.

      3. This bit about the purpose of sport as entertainment first and foremost is, quite frankly, crap. The purpose of sport is to inspire. Entertainment and inspiration are two different things that may overlap at times, but can be exclusive to each other.

        There is nothing more boring than an all-star game or testimonial even though you might be witnessing marvelous skill and artistry on display. It’s the competition, the battle that enthralls us. At its most brutal interpretation, sports is a proxy for war; a contest of not only skill but intelligence, speed, stamina, strength, balance, coordination, vision, character and crucially, strategy. Two hundred years ago sports were used only for training warriors and children admired the men who had rode off to battle and came back knowing that they likely had to maximize their human capacities to survive.

        I would point to Muhammad Ali and his famous rope-a-dope with George Foreman. Maybe the most “artistic” fighter in history knew that he couldn’t go toe to toe with a physically superior opponent. So he devised an incredible strategy that relied on his stamina and ability to withstand punishment to defeat his foe. It was not entertaining but it was inspiring.

        If I have a choice sure, I would prefer a team that can compete at the highest levels and express themselves to their fullest capacities when doing so. It’s why I became an Arsenal fan. But simultaneously I have no problem with a team playing Allardycian football against a superior opponent and (so long as they are playing fairly and with sportsmanship) succeeding – that can be inspiring as well.

        Just my two cents.

        1. Could not agree more. Winning is inspiring. Winning is survival. But Winning with art can be a quasi religious experience. It’s why it’s the holy grail of any sport. Only those who combine art with winning, Pele, Cruyff, Jordan, Magic, Gretzky ever achieve legendary status. It’s something beyond any mere entertainer can ever hope for.

          1. It’s interesting that you mention Cruyff, since he’s famously on record as saying that his Dutch side were the “real winners” of the 74 World Cup (or words to that effect), since they were the ones that played the inspirational (read: beautifully, breathtakingly entertaining) football that is still remembered today. No doubt he was a sore loser. But one gets the impression from all he said and wrote that he really believed this kind of viewpoint.

        2. Wow. I disagreed with PFo but didn’t know why. You expressed exactly how I feel about sport. Beautifully expressed Jack., To add to that, counter-attacking goals can be beautiful.

          1. Who said counterattacking goals can’t be beautiful?

            But, just out of curiosity, do you really find most free kick and corner kick goals, scored by the Robert Huths and Gareth McAuleys of the world, “beautiful”? If not, are you bothered if your side consistently adopts tactics in which the primary way that they try to score is via those sorts of goals, or are you entirely satisfied with any tactics and style, provided your team is winning (“sure, being entertained is a nice cherry on top, but as long as we’re winning, I hardly care all that much if I only get entertainment 2-3 times a season”)?

        3. Yeah, I have to agree with you here Jack. I mean, I do not want Arsenal to play Allardycian football every game but surely such tactics against a an obviously superior team is no bad thing. Hate to say it, but the Spurs formula (possession vs. lesser teams and counter-attacking vs. better teams) seems to be a happy balance.

          1. Agree, of course.

            But you know what would be a better thing? The manager and club working with all of their ability and finances to ensure that there are few (or no) “obviously superior teams” in world football.

            Of course that’s a lofty ambition, but why set our sights on anything less? We’re a huge club with huge resources.
            Personally, I think it’s to Chelsea’s shame that in spite of billions upon billions of Roman’s money being poured into them over a 15 year period, and despite winning many titles in that time, they’ve only very rarely been known as a team that’s easy on the eye, and their CL title came playing Allardyce/Pulis ball. Say what you will about Man City’s financial doping, but at least they’re going all out to create fantasy football for the ages.

        4. BTW, PFo did say winning ugly once in a while is okay – so I think you guys are kinda making the same point but coming from different ends of the spectrum (unless of course you are saying you are okay with Arsenal playing ugly all the time and winning? – I don’t think I would be happy with that).

        5. 2. Jack, if it’s “just your two cents,” then how is MY two cents that football should be entertaining “crap”? Are you making an objective claim about the value of sport, or just expressing your own tastes? If the former, then I’d like some philosophical arguments about the ontology of sport and the metaphysics of aesthetics, please. If the latter, then forgive me if I respectfully disagree.

          3. If the word “entertainment” seems inadequate to you guys, I’m fine with that. I agree, of course, that inspiration is a key part of why we love sport (maybe THE key), but the relevant question is *what* about sports inspires us?
          While competition–and those attributes of strength, courage, heart, passion, etc, that competition brings out of us–are certainly important in sport, if I really want to be inspired JUST by “blood sweat and tears,” etc, I’ll watch a great WWII movie or something of that nature. On the other hand, what sports, and football in particular, gives me in addition to “blood sweat and tears” is what I called “entertainment” above, but might be better summed up as beauty+excitement. Pulis’s West Brom doesn’t give me beauty+excitement. The Chelsea team that won the CL didn’t give me much in the way of beauty+excitement (pretty sure I would’ve said the same thing even if I had been a Chelsea fan, which is why that win would have felt hollow for me, as pleased as I would have been that my club finally won the big one).
          Put (perhaps overly) simply: watching football is an aesthetic experience for me–or at least I watch football games in hopes of having aesthetic experiences. Not everything that inspires me is an aesthetic experience. But great aesthetic experiences inspire me like few other things in life can. And football matches/teams that lack the aesthetic element do little to inspire me in other ways. (Just speculating here, but perhaps this is because I know the “drama” of sport, the “courage” and “pashun”, the John-Terry-with-his-head-bandaged-up moments, are so obviously pale imitations of the drama (courage, passion, heroism, etc) that we see displayed in history and real life.)
          Maybe your aesthetic sensibilities are just different than my own. Maybe you can get just as much beauty+excitement watching a Pulis team at the top of their game as you can watching a Pep team at the top of theirs. I can understand that view (though I admit to finding it slightly pitiable). What I don’t understand is a position that acknowledges that you don’t get much or any aesthetic inspiration out of, e.g., a Pulis team–that like me you find them as dull as watching paint dry–and yet that you think it doesn’t matter, because football was never about any of that crap. It was only ever about testosterone-filled, martial, chest-thumping competition and winning by any (fair) means necessary, even if it’s boring as sin throughout. Maybe I don’t have enough testosterone, but this just strikes me as a profoundly silly view, if indeed it’s the view you hold.
          I suspect that it’s not really the view you hold, but that, like Blackarse below, you want the “holy grail” of “winning with art”. It’s probably what we all want. I want success and aesthetic inspiration (“beauty+excitement”) in equal measure. What I object to is the insistence by so many football fans that if we have to choose, then we should choose success over aesthetic inspiration (I also reject, what’s often implied by these fans, that we DO typically have to choose).

          4. I don’t find appeals to other sports very relevant to discussions of the virtues/vices of football (see my comment about tennis player/coach Brad Gilbert in my reply to Claude above). So while I agree it can be inspiring (and entertaining!) to watch Ali rope-a-dope Foreman, it doesn’t really inform how I think about similar tactics (e.g. Mourinho’s) in football. Probably this is because no other sport has the capacity to bore me as deeply and consistently as football, so other sportsmen don’t need to focus so much on a “positive” way of playing in order for me to feel like it’s worth my time to watch them.

          1. I think that’s a good distinction to make. I don’t find set piece goals aesthetically inspiring, especially when they are the only sort of goals a team scores. I’m not buying your rejection of the claims that aesthetic inspiration should be subservient to results and that often it’s a false choice. Are you referring to a long-term playing style or would you say the same thing about each match? I could get on board if you were talking about Wengerball vs Allaradyceball, but if you knew you didn’t have the squad to beat Man City by playing open flowing football, would you still insist that “sometimes the best way to defend is to attack”? Perhaps a better way to put it is, if you could play somewhat ugly, like Spurs play, and win, or play beautifully, like City have been playing, and lose, which would you take? It seems to me that it wouldn’t have to be a choice if Wenger were willing to make slight adjustments to his style given the different styles of opponents, but that doesn’t happen, and there is some beauty imo in adjusting to exploit the weaknesses of your opponents. It seems that if you never wanted to adjust your style, you would have to have the best squad. AW never has, and never will. Maybe the Madrids of the world can get away with this, but I don’t see how we can.

          2. AspiringRationalist,
            I’m fine with a beauty+beast style, a la Arsenal 98, i.e. flowing football combined with brawn, defensive discipline, and aggression (and even a little bit of nastiness, though watching my team’s players acting like arseholes on the pitch is not really my cup of tea). I’m also fine with tweaking one’s style for particular opponents, e.g. adopting more of a counterattacking style, which inevitably involves ceding more possession and dropping deeper than usual. I don’t think either of the above should even necessarily be described as “winning ugly.”
            But as a viewer, I find genuinely “winning ugly” (a la Pulis, or Mourinho at his worst), on the one hand, and losing, on the other, to be EQUALLY unpalatable.
            If you’re then going to respond with the one-off-game-versus-settled-style distinction, then yes, I’m ok with ugliness in a one-off game, but I’m personally unlikely to get a huge amount of satisfaction from THAT game alone, even if it’s beating Barca. If, on the other hand, it’s one game in service of a long, successful CL or PL campaign in which we play brilliant attacking football a large percentage of the time (including against *some* other big teams–going into your shell at the first sign of quality opposition is craven), then I’m happy with that. But that’s to make the occasional “ugly” performance a necessarily evil, a means to a good end, rather than to confuse it as an end in itself.

            The current Spurs side are a good example of how to mix these different elements, both in the sense of playing ugly against superior opponents (which I never love, but I get it), AND in the sense of having a beauty+beast, artistry+physicality, element, similar to early Wenger Arsenal, even when they’re at their best (which I hugely admire). What I hate about Spurs (other than many of their players seeming to be c*nts), is that tactical fouling isn’t an occasional tool, but seems to me to be central to their pressing ethos and style. I think tactical fouling is cheating, if not in letter than in spirit, and along with time-wasting it’s my least favorite thing about modern football, because (a) it’s fundamentally unjust, and (b) it kills entertainment. It’s the job of the game’s governing bodies to stamp it out, but any manager that makes it central to his coaching philosophy (as I believe Poch has done) goes down in my estimation.

          3. “Perhaps a better way to put it is, if you could play somewhat ugly, like Spurs play, and win, or play beautifully, like City have been playing, and lose, which would you take? It seems to me that it wouldn’t have to be a choice if Wenger were willing to make slight adjustments to his style given the different styles of opponents…”

            You’ve answered your own question there: it’s a false dichotomy. It’s not a choice we should have to make, at least not 99% of the time. City’s way of playing can be successful most of the time, even if you don’t have a squad as talented as theirs (e.g. Arsenal’s squad is good enough, give or take a couple of realistic transfers). The notion that beautiful, attacking, adventurous football must be sacrificed for results, or that it can only really be played consistently by like 3 teams in world football (Barca, Madrid, Bayern), is an insidious lie propagated by the Mourinhos of the world who are just too scared of losing to risk it. It’s simply not true. Tweaking things for particular opponents, playing disciplined defense, etc (City work their butts off without the ball, by the way), are all COMPLETELY CONSISTENT WITH the beautiful game. And the combination of the beautiful game with a little pragmatism and a lot of discipline and hard work and tactical preparation can consistently lead to success.

    2. HA! Not at all. I’ve been saying Spurs are better than Arsenal for years. I predicted them to win the League when Leicester took it and frankly it was theirs and they lost it.

      I watched the game against Real Madrid and they were lucky – that first goal was offside, the second was a lucky deflection, and Dembele should have been sent off. I would be saying the same thing about Arsenal if they had gotten lucky against Bayern, Real, or even Barcelona. In fact, I got a SHITLOAD of flack when I said exactly that about the one time we did beat Barcelona.

      I give them plenty of credit – they are a good defensive team and they have two outstanding attacking players in Kane and Alli. But Tottenham are not a top top club.

      1. Fair points, Tim. And I don’t get the fellating by the British press

        I don’t wish ill on anyone, but it’d be interesting to see how to cope without Kane, Alli or Eriksen for a prolonged period.

  2. The round of 16 (winter) is coming .. if they pass the test, they’ll be somehwere close to a remarkable season.. I pray PSG on them..that should definitely be the real test.. a team that forces you to believe you’re nothing with full 90 minutes of exquisite attacking football performed by the world’s most amazing forward line.. I’d love to see how that strong fence or defence holds back mbappe…for now..much credit to dele. .he’s in a world most footballers wish for.

  3. Yeah well it was me too, Claude and nobody was getting “huffy”, but thanks anyway.

    I agree with the overall thrust of Tim’s piece – not that Spurs aren’t good, they are, but they are not as good as people are writing them up to be. It’s not much more complicated than that. I think they’re better than Bolton though…

    My own view is that pundits and fans alike are usually too hot in their judgments, positive or negative – not always, for sure, but usually. I also think a bunch of stuff about the particular kind of weird pleasure that some Arsenal fans take in Spurs doing well, because it confirms their own beliefs about how crap we are and serves a narrative about power shifts and long-term decline, a narrative I don’t believe in. Not because I’m derpy, or because I can’t see what’s going on on the pitch, but because I don’t think the fundamentals have changed.

    Others are welcome to characterize that opinion however they like.

    1. I’m interested in why you don’t agree with the narrative of decline. What fundamentals are you referring to? I would also ask how you would characterize what seems to be a decline given we have one of the best squads we’ve ever had (don’t think this is really in dispute) and yet our performances in terms of league points have remained static or slightly declined.

  4. There is no pleasure in saying this, Greg, not even “weird pleasure.” I meant ejaculation in the sense of speech. I believe Spurs are a better team than Arsenal. I don’t like it, but I think it’s true. Nowhere did I or anyone else here suggest Spurs were world champions. That’s the stuff you’ll find in the newspapers.

  5. Last year ‘arry Redknapp said Spurs will win the league in the next 4 years. That gave me great hope because Redknapp is usually never right about anything.

  6. If you’d note Claude, I said Spurs deserve credit for what they’ve achieved. I just asked people to step back and say what those achievements are that make Spurs a better club than Arsenal. Bunburyist ejaculated that league position confirms it. I guess if that’s the entire scope of that argument, last year’s league position, then there’s nothing to argue about. Also, I wasn’t arguing against the idea that they might currently have a better team than us. But like Greg, I don’t believe the fundamentals have changed.

    I also questioned why Spurs’ achievements are treated as such while those very same achievements by Arsenal in the past are considered years of failure, by Arsenal fans no less. But I guess it’s easier to just say I was being huffy.

          1. Shard, it’s more than simply league position. If you’re going to insist on purely tangible measures, then maybe that’s how we’d limit it. FA Cup is great, but League position seems a better measure of consistency, at the very least. Still, if you’ve watched Spurs’ performances, there seems to be something less readily put into words. They look good. Watching Arsenal performances, we look good, sometimes. Certainly, we haven’t looked as if we could beat Madrid at home or draw them away. Yes, that’s not falsifiable, but if I were to ask you to predict a scoreline for each of Spurs, and each of Arsenal’s matches, and then compare wins, losses and draws at the end, would you find this Arsenal squad ahead at the end?

    1. And I do think the fundamentals have changed. I think our system is weaker than theirs. I think they play with belief now (they never used to), whereas we tend to have some sweet games and some really, really whale shat the bed games (what they used to do). So yeah, NL POWER SHIFT, BABY!!!! Bring it! I’m now a Spurs supporter! COYS! Lily Whites! To Dare is to Do! Oh, wait, that is absolutely the stupidest, most senseless motto I’ve ever heard. I’m back to being a Gooner.

      Anyway, we won’t agree on that, but I think that’s why the league position last year was the way it was, and why, I predict, it will be that way again this season. Some fundamentals. And look, they’re better than us, but not ten league places better. Let’s not exaggerate my beautiful, beautiful claim.

    2. What are those things for which Spurs are being lauded that we were criticised for? And what fundamentals, for us and them, remain unchanged? Let me tell you, for them, two that have changed. Quality of their coaching, and their fitness. I’d say the quality of Wenger’s coaching has declined, wouldn’t you? Especially on preparing for meetings with top 5 sides.

      All that said, they’ve won nada for the longest while, and certainly nothing in the past 4 years, when we won 3 trophies. So there’s that for some perspective.

    3. “I just asked people to step back and say what those achievements are that make Spurs a better club than Arsenal. ”

      Shard, outperforming Arsenal in the league – the competition Arsene Wenger himself values more than any other- on little more than half the Arsenal wage bill might be considered one of those achievements , especially for someone who values outperforming one’s financial constraints .
      You used to be such a person . Has something changed?

  7. Look, I begrudge Spurs nothing. They’ve done everything right, they play effective football, and they’re getting their rewards. They’re better than us and will continue to be for the next few years at least.

    I just can’t help but feel that the Madrid win was the high watermark for the club, this season and possibly the next few. They would be good enough to win the league most years, but Man City are too good as you’ve said. Fivethirtyeight has their odds of winning at 85% or something silly.

    Nor will they win the Champions League. Teams will have watched that and started to take notice. I also don’t think they’re quite good enough to go all the way. Add to that, fatigue will kick in later in the season.

    Maybe they’ll win the FA cup. It’s possible, and it’s certainly an achievement. But they don’t seem to be focused on that, and we saw what happened in the League Cup when they weren’t focused. Add to that the fatigue factor again, and I think they’re probably not favorites.

    Beating Madrid is an excellent achievement, and I think it will be the highlight of their season. This summer, expect them to be picked off. Pochettino will have options, but he might stay. Kane, Alli, Eriksen, etc. will probably be coming off career seasons, and while you may expect loyalty from one or two (Vardy?), don’t expect it from all. We’ll see how it goes. The wheels won’t come off, but they may need changing.

    1. Next few years? Perhaps but probably not if they have trouble holding on to their manager and a couple of players – as you yourself mentioned. I definitely see them being better than us this season and the next while Wenger is in charge.

    1. We’re not talking about City because a) they’ve already won the league, and b) we’re doing some Freudian defense mechanism screen memory thing whereby when we talk about Spurs, we’re really talking about City.

  8. Interesting point when you say ‘In two-weeks time Arsenal will get a chance to see if they learned the lesson as they get to travel to the home of the world champion Tottenham Hotspur.’
    Meaning we should defend regardless of tottenham treating us like real/bottom 14 side.
    Like mourihno.
    The only other option is to keep our composure.
    Our midfield is Xhaka.
    Should I agree with you? Because I do.
    In response to the first poster. How can a rational analysis of tottenham that exposes them as not as good as everyone is saying they are. On an arsenal blog. Be sour grapes. Everything that was said about tottenham was a fact. Plus Fuck tottenham.

  9. I will predict that all five English clubs will make the quarters. PSG, Real and Barcelona or Bayern will round it out. It’s been a while in the making but the English teams now have the firepower and managerial nous to get that far. Depending on who they draw I wouldn’t put it past Spurs to make the semi’s if they, say, get matched up with Liverpool or Chelsea. I don’t think they’d actually do that poorly against PSG or Bayern. Real is going through a slump right now, they have 5 players missing, they are still the defending champions.

  10. I’m sorry if this offends my fellow gooners but this Spurs team is better than ours, at least at this point in time. “Team” being the operative word here as that’s how they play. I think that we have a better squad on paper but when it comes to the first 12 or 13 players, them lot play with more discipline, more purpose and more consistency. I have seen one disciplined performance from us so far this season and that was at Stamford Bridge. Even though we didn’t score, I think we made one only silly error in the whole game. I was not impressed with our performance at Goodison Park from a disciplinary point of view where we let in two very soft goals even though the match itself was entertaining. To get any kind of result at Etihad Stadium or Wembley we will need show the kind of discipline we showed at the Bridge. I am not very positive we can. However, I think our front three is probably on par with the best in the league so if somehow Wenger can get our midfield and wingbacks to focus fully on their tasks, then getting something out of our next two games isn’t an impossible reach. The way City and Spurs play, they will leave space behind for AOL to exploit. In these type of games, whoever scores first usually wins so the focus must be on defense. We are so prone to mistakes though… I think we could concede early and that’s when it can get ugly.

  11. Some genuinely funny and interesting stuff today.

    I enjoy any kind of ejaculation of which I’m capable at my age.

    I don’t enjoy Spurs no matter how “good” they are because we’ll, they are Spurs.

    I really enjoy Man City because they are not Spurs and are probably playing the most brilliant football in the Premier League since The Invincibles.

    I will not enjoy Sunday’s match because in my mind we’ve already lost a horribly lopsided match, the 2nd one of the season and it will be ugly, ugly, ugly.

    1. Yeah, I guess we should all just stay home and work on our ejaculations. Actually I reckon City are one of the teams we might do well against this season, as we have in the past. They like to play open, attacking football. like us. and while you can reasonably argue they have better players/manager, I just don’t think they are THAT much better… We often do better against open-style teams so it could be closer than you think.
      ‘Scuse me while I enjoy a little personal fantasy time…

  12. Guys, once again, I am not taking issue with the idea that they have a better team than us right now , though I don’t think it very unlikely that we could finish in front of them, because well…football is unpredictable and the gap is not that large (even Bun agrees)

    What I questioned was the idea that this represents a massive shift in power. To compare with Arsenal at a similar stage, before we moved stadium, we had won the league undefeated, won an FA Cup (in a backs to the wall fashion) and made the CL final (and lost to an offside goal). After the move, the financial implications hit hard and we still had a young team that was truly entertaining and making its way to the title only to be foiled at the end after heavy external influences. Since then, we’ve had a couple more title challenges, some heavy squad rejigging and finally 3 FA Cups after we started spending money again. This period is almost overwhelmingly considered a period of failure for Arsenal.

    Spurs have won nothing and are at their peak currently by the same time frame. Maybe they’ll do better than Arsenal when it comes to dealing with the financial side, maybe they won’t collapse like Arsenal did a few times, even though they have both times they’ve been considered to be in an actual title race. But so far, the sum of their achievements is making the CL and beating Real Madrid. I don’t say they don’t deserve praise for what they’ve done. I think they do. I just wonder why this praise is so unreservedly, gleefully given to our rivals, when denied to us. (I think it’s only because it is used to bolster a viewpoint about the manager)

    TL;DR Spurs’ team is better currently but their ‘achievements’ are what were and are treated as failures (either abject or qualified) for Arsenal.

  13. Spurs are on a good run for sure and playing some good football. But how their performances are measured is completely different to Arsenal.

    Not only are Arsenal to only team in England who aren’t allowed to celebrate qualifying for the Champions League, but until last year we’ve finished everywhere from 4th to 2nd consistently and there was still lots of complaining every year.

    If Spurs finish 2nd or 3rd this year and go out of the Champions League in the last 16 people will still go on about how great they are and what a good season they’ve had.

    We’ve done that for over a decade and added, on top of that, actual tangible trophies to boot, and people are still angry and upset about how much of a ‘laughing stock’ we are.

    1. I guess what I’m saying is a agree with Shard.
      Spurs have just started doing what we’ve done for over a decade, and while I understand the general media’s fawning over them, it’s harder to understand how quick some Arsenal fans are to praise them for a couple of good seasons. Spurs better be careful. 10 more years of this kind of success will see them labeled as boring and predictable, if judging by how Arsenal are treated these days 🙂

  14. Can we talk about the game tomorrow?

    1. Personally, I’d try to do something like what we did when we won at their place 2-0 a few seasons back, and go 4-3-3. I don’t think all out bunker mentality will work, because we can’t play well that way and they’ll just press us into submission (as they did there last season). So Wenger is right that we need to find that balance between staying compact and moving swiftly and intelligently onto the front foot when we get the opportunities.

    2. Assuming Kolasinac is fit to play (and I think he is; if not, he’s the obvious one to miss out), I’d drop Mertesacker and bring in Wilshere. My thinking is as follows.

    3. Monreal has been our best defender this season, and at this stage in his career is more than capable of playing in a CB partnership with Koscielny, provided we’re not playing a team who are going to look to bully us in the air, which City aren’t. Nacho+Kos can’t be exposed for pace in quite the same way as we can when Mertesacker starts, even though I rate Per and think he’ll be a good option off the bench if we need to switch to a back three to hold out for a win/draw late on. I’d actually be more worried about Kolasinac and Bellerin as traditional outside backs than I would about Nacho as a CB at this point, but the right prep during the week should (ha!) help them think “defense first” a bit more than usual.

    4. As for bringing in Jack, admittedly he’s not the best defensively, but he’s far from as bad as some people make out (in spite of what Wenger said in the week about playing him further forward, I still think his best position is in midfield). And anyway, in this kind of game you don’t need amazing defensive midfielders so much as players willing to keep shape and clog the midfield (see Iwobi against Chelsea, who no one has ever claimed is great defensively), and who are willing and able to mix it up physically (e.g. not Ozil), while being able to play football when we get the ball, rather than coughing it right back up.
    Jack is all those things, and he happens to be the most in form and experienced of our midfielders who’s not starting. Normally I’d think of Coquelin, but he’s especially poor at keeping possession when pressed, and anyway is in terrible form at the moment. Elneny is solid but a bit meh all around, and one of the youngsters (especially AMN) might be a good option for this sort of game in the near future, but they’re not ready yet. So Jack gets the nod, with Jack and Rambo given strict instructions to stay tight on either side of Xhaka when we don’t have the ball, in order to clog the midfield. Basically, we play like we did against Chelsea, but with the extra midfielder meaning that we don’t have to rely on Ozil and Alexis to do quite as much defending as Welbeck and Iwobi did on that day (though they better do their fair share, and position themselves in a similar way).

    5. The danger will be City overloading down our flanks, but I think that’s still preferable to playing 3-4-3 and leaving massive gaps for them to exploit in the middle of the park.

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