You have to give a nod to Manchester City for playing a part in their collapse at White Hart Lane. It was much of what we’ve come to expect from Roberto Mancini’s men all season, and the Italian once again didn’t shy away from telling his players exactly what he thought of them. But if only for a moment and with nothing decided at this stage, Tottenham looked like a club destined for the top four – and that is what Arsenal should take from this race for a Champions League spot.
A great deal of credit will once again go to Andre Villas-Boas and his tactical switch. But I don’t really want to talk about tactics and what it did for the finer details of the game, rather what it did for the mood around White Hart Lane.
It’s the safest route for Tottenham fans, I’m sure, to just accept defeat and another disappointing end to the season. Andre Villas-Boas, however, was having none of it. It’s a sense of understanding for what is at stake; no, not a place in next season’s Champions League group stage, but instead the pride of a winning a football match.
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Tottenham had the players but not always the belief. Manchester City could have put the game to bed in the first half and that would have been it. Instead, the result amounted to Spurs delivering a heavy and impressive defeat to one of their rivals at the top of the Premier League table. For all that can be said about Arsenal and their experience as a top four team and the titles of the past, when was the last time Arsene Wenger’s men really put Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea to the sword? More importantly, when did Wenger mastermind a complete turnaround in a match of that significance?
It’s a divide that doesn’t need compliments, traditions or playing style to bridge the gap. They might have similarities and storylines that take from one another, but Tottenham and Arsenal want to remain very much individual.
That’s why it might not sit well for it to be suggested that Arsenal can learn something from Tottenham’s win. Arsenal have put together an excellent record of results over the past two months, with the only blemish coming at White Hart Lane in that 2-1 defeat. Sure, they may kick themselves for failing to take all three points from Everton come the end of the season, but otherwise why would Arsenal need to look across the way for a source of inspiration?
Again, it’s that attitude Villas-Boas had to want to change the game. Ironically, it almost bordered on stubbornness. The game looked up and Tottenham’s hopes for a top four place this season seemed to be coming to an end. The bravery and desire from Villas-Boas should be remembered for a long time, especially if that win against Manchester City acts as the defining point for Tottenham’s season.
It’s different at Arsenal. They will win, play good football and send everyone home happy if the sun is shining, the wind just happens to be in their sails and the opposition play their own part in their downfall. That’s not always the case, of course, but the biggest point here is when did you ever get the sense that Arsenal and Wenger were taking it upon themselves to alter the outcome of an important game? Wenger has that attitude of “leave it be, it’ll sort itself out” that just cannot work at this level of the game. It’s an attitude that Villas-Boas was miles away from on Sunday afternoon.
Some Arsenal fans will cite the changes made during the game against Norwich at the Emirates, a group of substitutions that forced the turnaround and win. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t as grand as Tottenham’s win. A point to be made: Arsenal have not beaten any of the other three teams currently making up the top four this season. In my lifetime, Arsenal have not scored more than two goals at Old Trafford in the league. Spurs, this season, can tick off both of those.
Arsenal may end up finishing in a Champions League place this season, with or without Tottenham rounding out the four. But that doesn’t take anything away from the achievement of Spurs and the mentality that can and should be adopted at the Emirates. Rather than letting the result fizz out into nothing, giving into submission and just playing out the remainder of the 90 minutes as an act of formality; do something different, brave and inventive that will warrant equal praise.
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