Despite the poignancy of the occasion, it’s felt all too easy to make a catalogue of sweeping generalisations in the wake of Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal during the weekend.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side could have seen their four-point gap disintegrate to just the one with defeat at White Hart Lane on Sunday, but for them to extend that lead over their neighbours to seven with a victory on derby day, it was always going to be difficult to strip the emotion away from the event.
Does this mean that Spurs have now slain their fierce neighbours and tipped the eternal balance of power in their favour? Not just yet and while they may well be the best team in North London this season – or perhaps the entire capital, should they finish above Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea – we will need to see the trick pulled off a little more sustainably before we start making such durable assumptions.
Yet for however much you choose to read into Sunday’s result, the poignancy of what was on show by the men in white, felt almost undeniable. And it wasn’t necessarily in regards to what they were doing with their feet, either.
The shredded nerve ends and bitten nails of some Tottenham fans may argue to the contrary, although as Villas-Boas’ men entered the final phases of the game with a slender one goal lead, the impending feeling of self-destruction felt almost palpable in its absence. In what has since become the Premier League’s highest ever scoring fixture, the North London derby has served as a shrine to the self-doubt and perennial flakiness that has dogged Spurs over the years.
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But this time around, you got the impression that you were witnessing a bunch of players that weren’t in the mood for wilting anymore. And for all the tactical evolution, the Gareth Bale thunderbolts and cascade of pressing that we’ve seen Spurs display this season, it could be that galvanized mentality that makes more of a difference above anything else in N17 this season.
Because a large proportion of this squad have, as Spurs fans hardly need reminding, been scorched by failure more than enough times to suggest that a steely, winning mentality might never fully evolve amongst this current crop of players.
In the trio of Aaron Lennon, Michael Dawson and Jermain Defoe, three of Spurs’ most seasoned campaigners at the club, you find an experienced core that’s been rattled not just once, but twice, in their inability to get the job done in the league over Arsenal. Of course, all three of the aforementioned have proved their ability to qualify for the Champions League at the club, but in both 2006 as well as 2012, they failed to finish above the Gunners after leading them for the majority of the season.
But it was within last season’s now infamous implosion that you could attribute the bulk of any real lingering feelings of self-doubt within this Spurs squad. It was just over 12 months ago that Harry Redknapp’s side blew what seemed like an almost unassailable 10-point lead over their North London rivals. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back upon their 5-2 mauling at the Emirates last February and for all their manager’s flirting with the England job and their chairman’s reluctance to spend in January, last season’s team simply couldn’t recover from the blow Wenger’s men inflicted upon them.
As brutal as it sounds, for all the barnstorming wing play and exquisite floods of attack, Spurs simply didn’t have the presence of mind to cope with the pressure or the belief needed to overcome adversity.
We will only find out if they’ve truly rectified that come their placing at the end of the season, although Sunday’s victory over Arsenal and to a similar extent, the 3-2 win over West Ham United, too, suggest that Tottenham may have finally found that vital mental ingredient that’s been missing for a small lifetime at White Hart Lane. And it could just be the key they need to finally supplant the Gunners in the league for the first time since 1995.
How much do you attribute this to Andre Villas-Boas, a change in personnel or simply a newfound maturity within what remains a very young squad?
Certainly in the influx of new players in N17 such as Hugo Lloris, Mousa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Spurs have attained not just young and gifted talent with a high resale value in fitting with the Daniel Levy model. Most importantly, they’ve acquired players with a genuine hunger and a desire to succeed.
But for all the comparisons between both Redknapp and Villas-Boas that have peppered the Portuguese’s first season with Spurs, a special mention must be given to the ex-Porto man’s own winning mentality. From day one, amongst talk of winning the Europa League and one day challenging for the league title, Villas-Boas made clear that Tottenham have to finish above Arsenal.
The slow adoration that’s built for Villas-Boas has often unnecessarily been adjoined by an incessant need to fire parting shots at the now QPR-boss. But perhaps supporters shouldn’t be too surprised with the difference in mentality from a team that used to ‘go out and give it a good go,’ to one that’s now told they can ‘still pose a threat’ to second-placed Manchester City.
Either way, Tottenham’s new found mentality might just prove to be the defining element of their 2012-13 season. The proof will as ever, be in the pudding. But after nearly a generation of self-doubt, this side may now have just turned the corner.