I was sat here with refreshments enjoying Claude on Arsenal Fan TV having another meltdown over his team and he said something that made a couple of my brains cells hug a little. He stated that Afc don't have the mentality to win the title. It made me think instantly of the apologetic reasoning we sometimes give about ourselves not quite having the mettle to sustain a challenge. We often cite the lack of experience. A lack of having not been there before. As a club we have, a few times, 'been there' by our own standards of progression (from midtable to fourth spot and Champions League.
One particular occasion we were 12 or so points clear of them lot down the road. We've been there but we've not held on. We have a different breed of player now meaning we have a stronger mindset altogether. The fact we're still up there is a good indication that (for now) we have enough about us to sustain the challenge. It's whether we can see it through to the end. As for them lot. The expectation to challenge is there every year and for the most part they do. Their personal goals aren't comparable to ours mainly because we don't set out to win the title at the start of the season. We're not in the position to do so. Yet.
Fan expectancy and fear can still influence heavily. We're all very self-aware of our historical traits (Spursing it up). Not achieving what we might dream about isn't a failure to be ashamed of. Especially as this team is new and maturing and still possibly two seasons away from peaking. Not aiming high would be shameful as that's one trait we do like to embrace often thanks mostly to that bloke in the 60s that created a legacy we've been attempting to emulate ever since.
We've Spursed it up in the past because we've lacked true winners and tactical astuteness and squad consolidation and <insert your own here>. We've not been good enough and others have been masterful in comparison. Mostly because of experience but mostly because they had a richer pool of top drawer players to select from and a coach that has won a title outside of England (a prerequisite it seems for winning one in England).
My light-bulb moment wasn't so much about the possibility of yet another season falling short. The type of pressure that existed before, in prior seasons, isn't as evident this year. I don't feel the intensity myself. Maybe it's because Leicester City are top of the table and Manchester City retain bi-polar tendencies. Arsenal always threaten but never seem to follow-up, preferring to hide under their own shadows of their past.
With Chelsea far behind and Manchester United in a constant crisis of confidence, we're left with the media building us up with the usual 'Can they do it?' headlines. Some supporters enjoy the attention whilst others remain reserved. No one (the media, other fanbases) really believe it and they probably want us to fall flat on our faces. Different challenge, same result. We're up against one almighty hellmouth of mockery that everyone outside of THFC have built from our broken dreams.
But what about the players? They're resilient. Determined. They have courage and healthy measures of self-belief. But what of this lack of experience? Is it a undeniable weakness or is it truly a blessing?
It does gives us less weight to carry on our shoulders, for starters. Much like Leicester, were not meant to be involved in the title race. We're expected to be up there but settle into 5th like good little boys. We're simply not expected to win the league. Of course, the moment everyone in unison - outside and inside of N17 - see there is a clear cut possibility of it happening, that's ground zero for us. That's probably the moment experience matters most.
But let's not pretend we don't have the players prepared for that. Every team starts somewhere. The first time has to happen for there to be a second. We don't have the experience of winning the Prem before or even being in a position where we could win it. I don't know about you but I don't mind being in a position where we could, regardless of whether we Spurs it up or not. I'll take that risk of dejection everytime.
This whole issue of experience being a requirement and that we'll crack under the strain is a complete fallacy. This is the light-bulb moment. Much like Liverpool did before they slipped up, the lack of pressure on us might be our best weapon to keep on going until the end. The pressure on them made them implode. Maybe because they are Liverpool and they once upon a time owned entire decades of football. And us? There is no benchmark. It's all new which means we make it up as we go along.
Forget about this blog, supporters and every pundit - consider the coach and the players. They are the ones that have to retain focus whilst the rest of us suffer in anticipation. Consider them. They seem unfazed. They've spoken about the challenge but it's all been under-played. Like it's a by-product of their own self-improvement. There's no needless fronting and badly timed soundbites. No downward spiral aimed at rivals.
Spurs have never done this before. This level of professionalism. In the past, you sort of knew (but wouldn't admit it) when we spoke about power-shifts that there was something unnerving about it. It looked right but if you looked close enough you weren't certain. You'd lie to yourself because you wanted it so much. The doubts always proved to be right. I was guilty of this. This time, it's not about me wanting it so much that I force myself to believe. The team is the one that wants it and that's transcending across to (I hope) most supporters.
The lack of depth might yet break us. With Liverpool that season, the hype got to them but also don't ignore the fact that Chelsea (regardless of their stuttering) pushed them hard and caught them in the end. It was a far more intensive campaign. I just don't think this season has that same overwhelming presence. Maybe I'm in the eye of the storm and blind to the incoming destruction.
We might simply not have enough bullets in our gun to fire our way to a target that remains in our range.
That is where most fans are gearing up to be frustrated the most. It's an uncomfortable truth to accept. It's there to be taken by the team that retains consistency and turns up for the games that can define the title race. Falling short because we're unprepared might be the real world confirming that we've pushed ahead of our in-house development. But football is about glory and if it's sat there waving at us, it would be rude not to wave back and walk over to say hello.
Absolute crazy talk again. Drink the kool-aid. It'll make you fizzy.
The Palace win displayed we do have the mettle. The consistency we've had all season has to produce more wins than draws and less of the upsets (like the three we've suffered). The games against City, Arsenal and Chelsea (who can still influence) will be huge encounters. We are still in the mix and I adore that I'm not fearful about it.
Like I said already, perhaps the whole issue of experience will make itself felt when we're in a position where the dreaming can conceivably become completely lucid. At that point we might find ourselves faltering. Yet saying that, writing that down...I sound like I'm trying to convince myself we'll default to what all pretenders do. Fall over. Ask Steve Gerrard about it.
I can't help but go back to the way this season has unravelled. It's deliciously under-stated. I worry about a lot of things, but I don't worry about everyone else. If we keep our sh*t together for another ten games then my untidy thoughts will make sense. We compare ourselves to teams from the past and yet this season is like nothing the past has ever coughed up. If we don't keep it together (no matter the reason), and we do falter, I'll bookmark this article. Then next season we'll have no excuse as we'll have that all important experience to source from.
TL;DR: The Premier League is in a state of flux and you don't need to be brilliantly consistent you just need to be consistent and occasionally brilliant to win it.