As Tottenham Hotspur face what is increasingly looking like a crunch fixture in terms of their season’s prospects against Arsenal this weekend, their recent form has made it increasingly difficult to cultivate much optimism at White Hart Lane.
Despite the travails of injury and transfer market failings that weren’t necessarily his fault, manager Andre Villas-Boas is beginning to find himself under increasing amounts of pressure form a growing contingent of the Spurs support.
Should results go against them during their weekend, the potential is there for the Lilywhites to sink as low as 10th in the Premier League; six points behind fourth with the London trio of Arsenal, West Ham and even Fulham above them.
Whether it’s right or wrong, defeat by two or more goals in the North London derby this weekend has the potential for the tides of opinion to become potentially toxic towards the Portuguese. But only if your glass is half empty.
View your N17 tinted glass in terms of full it appears and things could just as easily look a hell of a lot more rosy for the club should things swing in their favour. Victory at the Emirates would surely catalyze a well needed groundswell in confidence, open up a nice little four point gap above their North London rivals and again, should results go their way, fire them back into fourth.
And it’s here in which, as hard as some fans may find it to look beyond the cloudy state that is Spurs’ current of form, we’re offered some real food for thought in terms of this season’s ambitions in White Hart Lane.
It’s fair to say that the honeymoon period of goodwill and unnerving backing that Andre Villas-Boas has received from a large proportion of Tottenham fans, is over. A sense of very cautious optimism remains for some, while others continue to behold their suspicions. Despite remaining within one win away from fourth spot, the de facto level of expectation for Tottenham supporters, the side have looked labored at best this season.
While there have been exhibitions of excellence when things have clicked for Villas-Boas and Tottenham in the away wins at both Reading and Manchester United, they seem both relatively distant and increasingly infrequent. But despite the indifferent level of form shown since their 2-0 win at home to Aston Villa last month, the fact is that they remain in the hunt for fourth. Bar a hard to stomach exit in the League Cup to Norwich City, Spurs aren’t out of anything yet.
In terms of support, you can sample something of a very mixed pallet of opinion, depending on what you want to hear. For some, the chairman’s delivery of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey to a manager who craved the singings of Willian and Joao Moutinho, represents a bitterly disappointing display of both backing and ambition. For others, Villas-Boas’ erratic array of substitutions and tactical decisions when his side have been leading games, far outweighs the injury list the club have had to stomach. And some fans simply still pine for the man who continues to divide opinion, in Harry Redknapp.
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Although what is now done at White Hart Lane, is done and regardless of your viewpoint, it’s time to get behind the club at the present, as opposed to yearning for the past or worrying about the future. The undeniable reality is that the club are in transition and through a multitude of reasons, some of them not necessarily their own (such as the inevitable departure of Luka Modric and to a lesser extent, Rafael van der Vaart) they are slightly weaker than this time last term.
So what constitutes a successful season for Spurs this term?
With the return of Mousa Dembele this weekend, a player who is already absolutely integral to the hopes of the side this season, should he catalyze a victory over Arsenal this weekend, then Spurs could really use it as a springboard to regain momentum. With the driving force that makes AVB’s set-up tick, a now fully-fit Emmanuel Adebayor within the side and the trio of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Scott Parker and Younes Kaboul to return, Tottenham can grow in both strength and solidarity as the season continues.
Even though we’re only 11 games into this season, it’s probably not an ill-educated statement to predict that things are going to be hideously tight come the end of the season come the race for the top four. While Arsenal and Tottenham are both arguably slightly weaker than this time last year, the surprise rivals of last year in Newcastle United seemed to have regressed only in form, rather than personnel.
With David Moyes’ outstanding Everton side throwing their hat into the race, it could potentially stretch out into a four horse race. Given the improvements even in sides such as West Brom and even Fulham, it already looks to be a race that’s harder to win.
Although the competition has been perceived to be something of a hindrance in many people’s eyes, Tottenham do look set to make strides in the Europa League, at least out of the group stages anyway. But what if they can gather momentum within Europe’s secondary cup competition?
Would that reinvigorate confidence within the league? Would the drag of playing on a Thursday eventually take it’s toll on their domestic form? It’s difficult to say. But should the side look to find their feet, finally breed a less claustrophobic brand of football and begin to play with a little more heart and panache, it would certainly regain confidence within the paying public at White Hart Lane.
It’s playing devil’s advocate of course, but say Villas-Boas did get the side playing that way – which with the list of returning absentees and a slight change of philosophy, isn’t impossible – and it produced European silverware, but a fifth placed finish, would that be enough?
Managing expectations amongst an enormous plateau of change is always difficult and for Spurs fans, Champions League qualification is always going to be the target. But if the side gave it their all, finished just short, but brought home a European trophy from Amsterdam next May, that might not be such a bad season after all.
What do you want from Tottenham Hotspur this season, but more importantly, what do you expect? Join me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.