Important three points up for
grabs on Monday evening. I can't help but be distracted by the game that
follows. It's all about the North London Derby. It always is.
Arsenal's downfall vastly over-exaggerated thanks to the fallacy that perceives them as a club under-performing. They are doing pretty well all things considered. Perhaps they are (under-performing) in terms of gate receipt revenue and the fact they do spend big on players or wages. As it stands nobody has been able to retain a challenge to Manchester United's dogged consistency and the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City are now first port of call for so many players that might have (in the past) ended up at the Emirates.
I'm deeply philosophical about this. Belly full of rum. We go one up, we get a man sent off, we re-shape and somehow with it hold onto hope until we give it all away before half time. We re-shape again for the second half and once again look more than the sum of our parts, but its still too big a task for us.
One thing that's sticking with me at the moment is that thanks to the lofty position and the accolades and all the positive sound-bites and of course not forgetting the facts relating to form...we go to the Emirates as a team expected by some many to win. Wasn't that long ago we couldn't muster a win away from home against any of the considered 'big clubs'. We've only recently punctured that unwanted record (last year at the Emirates and Anfield) so this derby day on Sunday will require us to consolidate the new found belief we've stamped across the league this season and truly, definitively, once and for all prove we've grown up and don't mind invading someone else's patch and giving them a good smacking (that's a metaphor for the football rather than any norty business outside).
This isn't about coming back from the dead like last season. We've done plucky one too many times. This is about playing the Tottenham way, with pace and style. Playing without fear and playing to win not survive. No doubt they will also embrace pace and their own style and attack us. Best midfield wins. The irony is lost on them however, believing we are the ones that remain in their shadow when the reality is, they refuse to step out of the shadow cast down on them by distant memories of former glories.
Caution from within however, even a slight sense of nerves or an inability to focus and its not beyond the realms of possibility to get knocked out, blind sided. But if there's one thing this Spurs side don't struggle with these days is knowing what's expected of them and delivering it.
I hope I'm right. I hope their position flatters them and we flatten them.
Time to find out how big our balls are.
Episode 31 of The Fighting Cock podcast will be released Saturday after midday on itunes and the FC website (click on image below). It's a North London Derby special. Ooh, I can feel it in my bones, I'm going all tingly...North London is ours, North London is ouuuuuuuuurs...
For the podcast archive click here.
Nerves kicked in? Or perhaps not? Are you bouncing off the walls, giddy and excited? Primed to sing your heart out for the shirt?
For the second time in a season we go into the North London Derby as favourites. A far cry from the past dark days of mediocrity where a dominating Arsenal side had very little trouble picking off an average Spurs team, plucky and insecure and at times calamitous. Even when we punched above our weight adding blood and thunder to the dramatics, we still had little to show for it. Always managing to choke up and reflect with head in hands. I have to be honest. I prefer being the underdog but if you're not very good as the underdog then its not exactly the most fulfilling existence. Unlike say an Everton that always managed to dig in and beat Liverpool on occasions. We on the other hand could never quite get past that psychological barrier and crawl under the skin of our opponents. Not just against Arsenal but also Chelsea and others.
We've got past that now. Look at us, all grown up. No debate about it. Didn't quite happen in a blink of an eye either but gradually over the past few seasons, building on belief and taking advantage of circumstance. During the monopoly fuelled by Sky Sports the 'Top Four' were simply a class apart. We were not alone in our solitude. But at no point did we ever stop aspiring and reaching out for that impossible dream. Never looked like anything would change and yet it did. It has. It's not quite a level playing field thanks to the injection City have sucked into their veins, but the generation of kings that ruled before are having to shuffle about in this game of thrones where one or two are about to lose their heads. Little old Tottenham in the thick of it, wielding its sword, looking to conquer. This time with eyes on the crown and no sympathy if rivals end up on a stake.
Stature rebuild aside, more importantly we are finally playing the type of football that tradition would beckon upon us, the type that comes with backbone, something that we've lacked for so long. We've watched our spine strengthen in the past three years. It's not out of luck we find ourselves challenging.
Our form has been solid this season so much so that even if we lost (this Sunday) that tide that's turning will go on turning regardless. It's not up to us to chase any particular club as a benchmark. It's up to them to keep up with us. The only benchmark we should be concentrating on is the one we set ourselves. But you wouldn't wish to sacrifice Sunday as part of any learning curve or blip or reminder. We are all aware, white or red, what this game means. It's of the ilk that makes it the most unbearable to watch because defeat is always the most gruelling punishment to endure. Perhaps the confidence going into the game adds to the discomfort because we've been so conditioned to praying and hoping for so long.
Everyone knows that form aside (it goes out of the window) there's pride which pushes everything else left over. Everything goes out of the window other than the desire to get one over your rivals. It doesn't define us or the club, but there's no ignoring the hatred. Gloating rights might be a fragmented subject to quantify at any given time but neither set of fans are going to want to give them up.
Win and it consolidates the wind of change. Draw and you're happy you've not lost. Lose and you feel sick and empty and rush through the stages of grief telling yourself the defeat is one in isolation and doesn't quite tell the story of the season that's played out (although in the past it was just another defeat to add to the collection). But then in isolation, a win is a win regardless of all the other story arcs ongoing. A win is more important even though pragmatically if you win and then lose the following week it doesn't quite have the impact it should. But then when does pragmatism play a part in such a game?
Times are changing/have changed. No matter the rhetoric spat in our direction you have to be fairly numb and in denial to tag Tottenham with the forgetful version of the past when the past no longer haunts us. Ironically, the past is haunting them. In memory and set in stone outside their ground.
Teams have sustained success and during that period its relevant for them to be bullish and self-righteous. When a side begins to lose its spark it has to attempt to either claw its way back to the hedonistic heights or regroup and reinvent. Arsenal are in flux, a prolonged transition where Wenger has remained true to his ethos and philosophy. We joke he's deluded. Some of our fickle neighbours flirt with bin bags in protest. But the crux remains, he has to manage his side true to his ethos because his hands our tied up by the board and the club is run in terms of finances and transfers. Surviving is finishing in the top four. They know nobody else could retain their lofty placing in the league with such constraints.
But they expect more. But then expectancy is a commodity not everyone has a privilege of bestowing themselves with. I'm not one of them (obviously not, I'm from North London) so I can only comment from afar and the reality is that although there is delusion in terms of the words spoken and the false sense of entitlement he reverberates (echoed in the mind set of some of their fans) he has no choice but to carry on doing what he's doing. Perhaps blindly, as the reason they have fallen from grace is that he persists with a Plan A when a Plan B is required because they simply don't possess the players for Plan A. And yet, they're in 4th spot. Crisis? What crisis? A crisis born from a fractured reality, one that doesn't need to exist. But it's how they wish to exist. Caring more about ego and believing you can only ever sing when you're winning.
The counter argument is that for a club of their stature they should be in the title hunt every season and they should be winning silverware every season. The contradiction must be heavily disguised because they don't appear to see it. Ambitions aside, they might be more comfortable turning up for games and supporting their club if they released the shackles of expectancy and got back to basics. But I guess they're made up of different DNA to the rest of us. Genetically altered by their custodian who moulded the club in his image.
We have been mismanaged for more than a decade but with stubborn perseverance and at times learning from embarrassing mistakes made, we've pulled ourselves out of the shallow grave we slept in. We've always been ambitious but in practice we failed to achieve. Thanks mainly to style over substance and media hype and that key ingredient of expectancy that has so much influence over how the football is perceived.
But we've gradually, progressively shifted towards consistency. At home and then away from home. Which has seen us reshape the clubs mentality. Whilst we worked hard at it, others faltered. We can't change the past. The 1990s (post 91) were diabolical. Early 2000s equally grim. It's hardly a shock to Tottenham fans, we know we never competed. But we're competing now. I'd rather concentrate on how alive I feel for supporting my team throughout those mid-table seasons making the past few a joy to behold as we grip the top tier and refuse to let go. We are building something great. We're playing the best football in the league. Don't pretend you haven't noticed. You can't ignore or stop the cycle of football as it churns out its new chapter.
We still have a fair distance to travel before we complete the transformation. Although I've spent the best part of this article fleetingly comparing the changes between us and them, it's important to note that above all things I want to aspire to what Tottenham Hotspur should be all about when Tottenham Hotspur is striving for greatness. I'm not even asking for sustained success. I just want my club to be glorious in effort, be it in one cup final or the league.
We've not been beaten by them for a several games now (in the league). Form does go out the window as cited already. They are hurting and they will want to prove a point and make a statement and what better way to do that than to strike at us head on. I want us to dodge the strike, grab their hand and twist it around until it cracks and they bend their knees in agony falling to the ground as we stand over them, smacking the back of their head until they burst into tears and plead for mercy.
Looking at their form across the season, they are most likely to lose a few more between now and the end of it and without wishing to be patronising a win for them will be a moral one rather than season defining. That's just my own opinion, you might not agree. It will however be the latter for us, no doubt, the media will tell us in the aftermath (if that's how it plays out). Our form across the season suggests we'll finish in the top four. It's all hypothetical based on what's happened already. So let's not take it for granted.
Perhaps it's impossible to strip all the musings and comparisons aside when discussing this match in its build up. Regardless of predicament, you want us to smash them to pieces for all those seasons of misery we had to accept grudgingly in contests that were hardly fair when comparing the two sides man for man. They never showed remorse, always displaying arrogance. Regardless, you still want to smash them to pieces because of what they are. There is no need for reason, no need to validate. It's the way it is.
They will remain in decline if their support forever worship an over-played 2004 DVD. But that doesn't mean they can't be dangerous like a wounded animal. It doesn't mean they can't find something from deep within. These games are never ordinary. But then some wounded animals are better off taken out back and put out of their misery.
If it's going to come full circle we'll have to wait patiently to find out so either way denying or stating it hasn't/has happened doesn't matter. Their expectancies and ours, not relevant. The only thing that matters is the next game. The next game is against Arsenal. A franchised entity with cracks in the marble. Fans that are only visible when it's safe to be out in the open (not seen a single post from an Arsenal fan on this blog for over a year when in the past they celebrated every Spurs defeat like it was a victory for them by trolling the comments section). A club with no true defining birth, aborted time and time again. A canvas with a French artist staring back at it, sombre in thought, with no paint left to aid the restoration of his degraded masterpiece that now has the scribbles of a mad man scratched into it.
I'm not asking for much. Just their destruction.
There is no doubting that we need to finish above Arsenal to truly crow about the shift in power under the brooding North London sky. But you need to be insane (or own a red and white shirt) to disagree that one cycle is coming to its end and another continues to blossom.
One of the finest testaments to the Redknapp era at Spurs is the fact that in recent years we have the better record over our old enemy. In head to heads, we tend to best them. The fear, the crippling self-doubt...doesn’t exist any more. For too many years we lacked the quality and the authority to stamp Lilywhite across the NLD and sheer plucky effort was never enough as we were brushed aside time and time again. The dominance of the monopoly crumbled and everyone up top degraded a little. Arsenal have gone from super human to mere mortals whilst we have anchored ourselves to the upper tier without yet consolidating, but with every chance of doing so.
Wenger and his sorry lot are akin to Superman when he agrees to sacrifice his powers. Except you can’t see them getting their powers back (unlike in the movie), what with Arsene building a Fortress of Solitude out of Kryptonite. They’ve lost their best players. They tend to lose their best players almost by default these days. You expect them to replace the lost souls with new Gods but they dither and end up with decent players but of the ilk you expect seasoned top eight sides to sign. It’s a sign of the times, they’re in transition and they are struggling to adapt to morality. They look beatable. They look like they have mistakes and lapses of concentration in them all the time.
This is not an obituary. They still possess quality, but in a twisted way they are more alike to us in terms of how we shaped up a few seasons back. Couple of star players in amongst the ordinary, fancy football flattering to deceive. They show glimpses of belief and desire but it's almost at the expense of really having to push for it, rather than oozing with ease.
Our 2-1 win more or less paints the same picture as described above. Reactions from their support further illustrating how different things truly are at this moment in time. Did Arsenal play well at the Lane? Apparently so. They nicked possession by a couple of %. But if this was Arsenal playing well (bossing it) how come I hardly remember Friedel having to shot-stop? Szczesny on the other hand? More to the point, if this was Arsenal playing well, how can a Spurs side that hardly asserted themselves still be so comfortable in victory? You could point to Redknapp and claim he started the wrong midfield and that had we played three centrally to combat their three man midfield then Arsenal would not have enjoyed so much time on the ball.
They had efforts. They missed a sitter. They struggled to find cutting edge. We had less time on the ball, failed to dictate tempo but on the counter we were too good for their disorganised defence to handle. When Redknapp made the tactical switch and brought on Sandro it was game over. I’ll wager we’d have won easily if he had started. We’d have suffocated their trio and allowed the likes of Bale to run riot. From the heart of a defensive stronghold there would have been offensive riches to behold. Sandro and Parker in the middle means less of the running back for the more creative of our players.
In an ironic role-reversal, they matched us (we're meant to have the better players, right?) and at the start of the second half bettered us. And yet in the end our quality was superior. The likes of Parker, King and Walker excelling. Defoe worked his socks off. Okay, so Ade was subdued and Modric not as influentially. But Bale was menacing in the second half and Sandro consolidated.
A better Arsenal side with some of those long gone players strutting their stuff would have (might have) punished us. Speaks volumes that we can start the wrong formation and yet still work our way to three points. It’s not that we didn’t play well, it’s just that we should have been set up to be far stronger from the start. We have the depth now. We got away with it because they’re the ones now punching above their weight, trying to play a particular way when lacking the players to do so. We have that little bit more in the way of desire and belief than they do.
When Walker scored, I was obviously euphoric but there was a voice in my head that said, “Well that was expected, wasn’t it?”. What bizarro universe is this that I suddenly find myself living in?
New Spurs. Don’t have to play well to beat Arsenal. I like that.
Was it handball? Top of arm? Apex? I’m going to be completely biased and say it was majestically controlled and not blatantly ‘handball’ in the traditional way. This was hardly a Henry moment. Arsenal should have complained about it with more vigour but they don’t even seem to have that in them these days.
Talking of Rafa. He loves giving it to the scum. It's like having a Dutch version of Jenas.
Ade. Obviously had a Robbie Keane moment when one on one and thought too much about the moment rather than instinctively scoring then concerning himself about whether to celebrate or not.
As for Jack Wilshere and his tweets:
"Van der Vaart should be sent off! He celebrated with the fans? I'm sure that is a yellow?"
“Remember one thing.....Form is temporary and class is permanent!”
Let’s humour him. Rafa did not jump into the stands. If anything the fans moved towards the player. He then moved back. Absolutely nothing to see here other than someone passionately celebrating a goal in a massive game. If Jack was to ever score in a NLD, I look forward to him shaking hands with his team-mates and briskly walking back to the centre-circle.
As for his form/class comment? I’ll remember one thing Jack, your desperation.
The vile chanting. The way the media are banging on about it, anybody would think this only ever happens when Spurs play Arsenal.
Remember how most of us felt post-transfer window closure? We wanted more than what we got. What we’ve got is four wins out of four with Parker and Adebayor. Probably worthy of another article, so I'll just say sorry. I was (along with a few) proved wrong about Parker. I'm okay with that.
12 points. 6 games. Both Manc sides played along with Liverpool and Arsenal. Just Chelsea left. Next nine games look winnable. This being Tottenham it’s the games we should be winning where we end up dropping points. But retaining confidence and positivity...we’re accomplished these days away from home and our form at the Lane remains strong (we don’t lose too many). The season is about to kick off for us.
Clive Allen. Knight him.
I've seen quite a few of us referencing the fact we are being perceived as favourites in the North London Derby. That's both the media and the fans believing Spurs have it done and dusted on paper and that it should easily translate on the field of play. I'd agree that our midfield is superior to theirs. I'd also cite the fact their defence plays out to the tune of the Keystone Cops.
They still possess quality (RvP) of the match-winning ilk. But so do we, in abundance, and we are on a roll (three wins on the trot). And we're at home. But then the self-doubt (it never goes away) gently reminds us that we don't tend to do well when expected to do well. We do better when we have less pressure weighing us down. Also, in a NLD, form goes out the window and effort can sometimes match the stronger opposition. Although in our case, that still meant no win against the old enemy for many years. Until recently.
It's almost role reversal this. Arsenal are Tottenham in red and white, whilst Tottenham are the Tottenham we have worked so had to become after 15 years in the wilderness. But still prone to the odd lapse. Major differences? We strengthened in the summer and retained our top players. They lost their top players and signed less than glamorous replacements. You can see why they are regarded as underdogs. They choke more than we do.
Still, there's hardly anything between both sides these days, except perhaps for Wenger and his experience at the very top level and the fact his side have always been at that level, even when others have suggested a 'crisis' or transition.
On paper? We should win. On the field of play? Honestly? I'll be very shocked if Arsenal can show their past seasoned focus and intensity (and desire) considering their form and their fragmented team, punctured with the ordinary and average in amongst the class. I'll be disappointed if we are the ones to choke and allow them to best us. We have the more settled side. They're the ones who stand before us depleted. And yet the positivity is still not embraced.
Teams can always punch above their weight. We've done it many times in the past. Not to dismiss or write off Arsenal, but a pulsating powerful show of strength and unity in our midfield will consume theirs and allow our front-line to punish their back four. My only concern is RvP. Take him out of the equation and it will be the first time in my life-time that my heart will not dance to the beat of nerves. He'll play, which means there are no underdogs or favourites in this game. Not matter how you choose to use paper to prove a point.
There's simply a team that wants it more than the other. I'm obviously going to claim that team is the team in Lilywhite. I hope the players wearing the shirt believe in the shirt as much as we do.
Embrace the positivity. Prove we're the favourites, prove we're the top dogs and let them bask in the indignity as the plucky underdog that tries ever so hard and gets nothing. Life is harsh. We've been at the end of it so many times in the past. It's time to give some of it back.
Winners of John Crace's 'Vertigo' (original article here): Matt and @betambeau88 - congrats. Email me (use the contact form) your name and address.
A M*dric free blog zone.
Pre-season has kicked started. It has, right? Have to say, after the summer that was followed by '2 points 8 games' (remember what we did to the Italians at the Lane?) I've completely detached myself from our friendly fixtures other than hoping we get through it without losing players to injury and that there's a spark or two of positivity no matter the results. In 2010 when we finished fourth our pre-season was hardly one of encouragement.
Sure, okay, so we lost 1-0 over the weekend after a 90th minute goal from the Chiefs and from what I've been told it was a fairly non-eventful match. Hardly worthy of commentary. Although good to see Bale back in action. And damn you West Ham for getting yourselves relegated. We are left scratching our heads wondering if someone will take the plunge and sign some of the 'deadwood' we are so desperate to shift on. It really is shaping up to be a window which will only truly open a week before it shuts.
As for the players we're meant to be signing, it's only Monday. Got to leave something aside to complain about for midweek.
So, in the meantime, enjoy the first part of the Spurs Wars series from @whitehartXchang. A little something to get the heart pumping as we continue to work our way through the summer searching for hope like an explorer searching for treasure but fast sinking in quick sand.
Big screen version of vid here.