If there was ever a defining moment for a Tottenham side who have now arrived as players on the world stage, this was it.
At a stadium where they’ve never really felt at home, against the reigning two-time European champions, in a game to potentially decide the top spot of a Champions League group, Spurs didn’t just turn up, they eviscerated Real Madrid.
There have been signs over the last few years that they were the real deal, but now we know for sure: it’s not just in the frenzied haze of a Premier League season where Pochettino’s side feel at home, it’s in Europe, too. This is a side who have their manager to thank for almost everything great about their recent rise, but who are also incredibly well-positioned for the future, provided they can keep their best young talent happy, and keep them at the club.
This doesn’t just have implications for Tottenham, though. Nor is it just a case of the knock-on effect for the rest of a league who now have to deal with another member of the top six cartel. This has implications to some of the other established clubs in England’s capital. And especially the one-time Invincibles Arsenal.
There’s a simple and obvious way in which that’s true. In order to win their first league title since 2004, Arsenal must now overcome a Spurs side who are now their superiors in the current Premier League hierarchy. In order to qualify for the Champions League, the Gunners, too, have to scramble their way past another team. But in order to keep their position as one of the top clubs in the country in terms of prestige and commercial position, they may also find themselves taking on their north London rivals once again.
When Mauricio Pochettino told Spanish radio at the end of last season that Tottenham was the biggest club in London, it just seemed like the sort of jibe you always get among club rivals. It was picked up, caused a small stir and then we went back to our lives thinking, “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” But Pochettino might have had a point.
Whilst it’s true that Tottenham have a history to be proud of, the same is true of Chelsea and Arsenal, too. But to say that Spurs were more popular perhaps sounded like a stretch, even for the manager of the club.
But it’s also true that Spurs are a club whose star has been rising for the last few years, who play a modern brand of attractive football, who have a top manager, some players who are fast becoming household names, and they are about to move into a new stadium to rival anything else English football can boast.
On the other hand, whilst local rivals Arsenal had most of that a decade ago, they don’t anymore.
They have a world class stadium, a manager who is a household name – though rapidly becoming a caricature – and a team of players who haven’t lived up to expectations. The discontent around the club is there for all to see, and the mutiny doesn’t look too far over the horizon.
But what’s so shocking about the Arsenal position is that the problems in the boardroom stem from the fact that the ownership of the club treat it as a money-making company. It’s their club, they’ll say, and they can run is as they wish, but you get the feeling that, given the rise of Spurs, this is incredibly short-sighted.
Because whilst the Gunners can wish to make money out of the prestige of being able to call themselves the biggest club in London and have some sort of evidence to back that up, they are in danger of having no evidence to back up even the claim that they’re the biggest side in their own little corner of the capital.
Spurs’ victory over Real Madrid calls to mind the Gunners’ own victory in 2006, when a Thierry Henry inspired side knocked Los Blancos out of the Champions League and made it all the way to the final in Paris. But that is now over a decade ago, and whatever announcement that Wenger’s Arsenal made to Europe that night, they have failed to live up to it, and now its their rivals who are in the same position as the Gunners were back then, whilst they are now known as the cup team whose spineless but attractive style of football can’t quite cut it in the league.
As prescient as Pochettino’s comments may look, though, this is only on the back of one result. They are, much like Arsenal were, a team who need to capitalise on that and build even further.
Just as Tottenham’s rise may be a warning to Arsenal that their past success is no guarantee of future prestige, Spurs should also take their north London rivals as a warning sign, too. Just weeks after Arsenal lost the Champions League final, they moved into a new stadium, found themselves in a precarious financial position and didn’t win another trophy for nearly a decade.
Wednesday night was another milestone moment for Pochettino’s Tottenham who are well on the path to becoming a truly big team, known to and respected by football fans worldwide. But if Pochettino’s comments about being the biggest in London are to be true, they need to kick on in a way that Arsenal didn’t. There are warning signs everywhere this week in north London.