Writing this article is not easy. The recent circulation of the quite tragic screenshot depicting Tottenham’s lead over Real Madrid with an advert below for Arsenals upcoming game on BT against Red Star Belgrade, really did sting. It underlined a truly horrid reality that at this current moment, Tottenham are a far better team.
The reason? I refuse to accept that it’s because of that bean pole up front, but instead the work of the man who picks him: Mauricio Pochettino. Wenger vs Redknapp/AVB/Tim Sherwood etc was never even close. However, it seems now that Daniel Levy has finally got it right.
For my whole life I have watched Arsenal continually hold the bragging rights over the ‘Spuds’ over the road. Not just in terms of league position, where for 19 years straight Wenger’s teams had looked down on Tottenham when May came around. It was always better than just that. Even in their good(ish) days, where they would record the odd victory at the big grounds with Bale and ‘the rest’, there was always a guaranteed three points for the Gooners at the Emirates. Successive 5-2s highlighted the sheer difference in class between the two sides; going 2-0 at home by no means ever meant there was a feeling that The Arsenal wouldn’t get a result. So, what has changed? Simple. Mauricio Pochettino is a world class manager.
With a father who did his best to get me to support Southampton, I took a keen interest in how good Pochettino was for the Saints. Like everyone else, with a manager who would go on to require a translator for every interview conducted whilst at the club, I was not convinced. However, Ronald Koeman aside, those who have come before (certainly since the early 2000’s), and definitely since Pochettino, have failed to galvanise the fans like he did. He unearthed a quite unanimous feeling amongst fans of the Premier League that Southampton are once again a relatively big side. They are still a selling club, and remain Liverpool’s academy, but nevertheless can attract good footballers. Mario Lemina, Van Dijk and Gabbiadini were not unknowns. I digress slightly, but it shows the bench mark that Pochettino has set down on the South Coast.
It is not just a question of money - Tottenham managers before “Poch” have had plenty of money to spend. The difference is that Poch wouldn’t have signed Roberto Soldado or Clint Dempsey. Spuds fans will be quick to point out that they did buy Erikson with their Bale money, but - by a sheer matter of quantity, they were always bound to buy at least one, not-rubbish, player. Pochettino has made quality signings, but it has been his desire to implement a British core that has been so impressive. He can’t take the credit for the natural ability of Dele Ali or Harry Winks, but he can take credit for picking them, and for how these players are performing. He can also take credit for, unfortunately, having the best back three in the league.
Unlike most managers, including Arsene Wenger, Pochettino has shown his ability to change his tactics. He is more than willing to switch from a back three to a back four if the game demands it. This is no mean feat. Arsene Wenger refused to ever change from his beloved 4-2-3-1 no matter what the form or who’s available. Such stubbornness has been echoed with the new formation, which has seen Mohammed Elneny play at centre back and Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left wing back. Don’t get me started on that.
Tottenham are by no means the finished article, their Wembley record in the Premier League is certainly not the form of Champions, and any injury to the lump up front would undoubtedly affect their form. Yet Pochettino’s class can be confirmed quite easily.
Ask any Arsenal fan if they would take any former Tottenham manager to replace Arsene Wenger, you’d probably hear a resounding no. However, I can’t comprehend, or even believe, any fan who wouldn’t welcome Poch making a Sol Campbell-esque switch from the dark side.
With the North London derby just around the corner, Poch’s side will have another stern test. The difference now is that I can no longer look forward to this fixture like I once did.
Two draws at the Emirates in the last two seasons has revealed the disturbing truth that Tottenham are no longer the bottle jobs they always were. I refuse to believe that this will be enough to catapult them to either Premier League or Champions League glory, and they will always have a chicken on their badge. But the disturbing truth: they are far closer to success than Arsenal. If you can accept that money is not the reason for this, you have to look towards the increasingly impressive gaffer.