There have been some fantastically memorable Tottenham collapses in my time as an Arsenal supporter. There was the Lasagna incident of 2005-2006; where most of the team ate the same meal and ended up getting food poisoning. They lost their final match of the season, Arsenal beat Wigan 4-2, and the Gunners pipped 4th by just 2 points. T
here was the 3-2 win over West Brom on the final day of the 2011-2012 season, where Arsene Wenger clutched a gawping Pat Rice as West Brom missed a sitter which would have drawn the match level. Arsenal needed that win to finish 3rd and take the final Champions League spot away from Tottenham, who finished 4th but were denied when Chelsea managed to steal the Champions League.
There was the “negative spiral” finish of 2012-2013; where Andres Villas-Boas boldly proclaimed that Tottenham were in an upward spiral and Arsenal were in a negative spiral after a 2-1 win put Spurs 7 points clear on March 3, 2013. Arsenal took fourth place, again by 1 point on the final day of the season.
But of all the times that Arsenal have finished above Tottenham, a stretch of seasons going back to 1994-1995, this one, where Arsenal finished 2nd over Tottenham was the most dramatic St.Totteringham’s Day in all the years that I have been following Arsenal.
I have heard reports that my local pub has become a Spurs bar. That it was packed with Lilly Whites on the final day of the season and only a few Gunners braved the “banta” and popped in to be the fly in the ointment. Spurs fans were talking all kinds of stuff before the match, boldly predicting a power shift in North Tacoma that mimics the one they think is happening in North London. That must have been a sight to behold. Imagine being one of two Arsenal fans in a Spurs bar on the final day of the season as Tottenham lost 5-1 to 10 man Newcastle and the Gunners beat Aston Villa 4-0. It must have been like being at a poker tournament and your nemesis went all in on trip aces, only to lose to four kings.
Pochettino’s angry rant after the match was the icing on the cake. Blaming the players for having a weak mentality, apologizing to the fans and the families, and calling it his worst ever day in management. It was a Mourinho-esque moment from the young manager and one which may come back to bite him next season if his players decide that he’s too harsh on them. It’s not fashionable to talk about “player revolts” and fans hate that kind of talk but that’s what happened at Chelsea this season and in these days of player power it can happen at any team where the manager throws the players under the team bus.
Suppose, by some miracle, Spurs did manage to win the tie. Is that really in the best interests of the team? The biggest prize on offer this season is Champions League football next season. It’s the Champions League that will ensure the current squad stays intact during the summer transfer window. It’s the Champions League that will guarantee the big bucks TV money. It’s the Champions League which will attract the best players to Tottenham. – John Crace, ESPN
Poch can complain about the mentality of his players but it was another Spurs friend of mine who pointed out that he may have help set up that mentality. Tottenham deliberately tanked the Europa League when they fielded a weakened side against Borussia Dortmund and were spanked 3-0. The punditocracy snidely complimented Poch for his brilliant tactic of focusing on the League (above) but as my friend pointed out, trying to lose one tournament in order to win another is a loser’s tactic. Eventually you’ll have to use those players who you just sent out to lose and you’ll have to rely on them to help you win an important match. That is exactly what happened and their weak mentality shone through against 10-man Newcastle, just like they had practiced against Dortmund.
Pochettino was also oddly specific about the physical fitness of his players saying that they weren’t tired. His clubs have a reputation for falling apart at the end of the season, specifically in the last four games, because they have run themselves into the ground to get to where they are at the end of the season.
I’m not sure whether that reputation is fully deserved or not but it hangs around his neck like an albatross. Coming from the Bielsa school of pressing, another manager whose teams collapse like an old grey nag at the end of a long season, Pochettino asks a lot from his players physically. In his seven seasons as a manger, his teams have fallen apart in the last four games five different seasons. If we aggregate those five seasons, his teams have just 1 win and 6 draws in 20 games. In the previous 34 games in each of those seasons his teams averaged almost 1.5PPG, in the last four games, 0.45PPG.
|PPG in last 4||PPG in Previous 34|
Pochettino has also blamed the referees and the League for suspending Dembele and Alli but that too is sour grapes. Spurs have been a dirty team all season and it finally caught up with them. Snide little kicks, Dier’s crazy tackles in midfield, and Lamela’s firecracker temper (he has been subbed out of several games to stop him getting a red card) have been the hallmark of this Spurs team. In fact, Lamela got away with a stamp on Fabregas in that heated Chelsea match as eventually the emotions boiled over. But Spurs couldn’t hold it together and when they were under pressure, they lost the plot first to West Brom and then to Chelsea.
A lot of pundits have been giving Tottenham good marks for this season, even saying that Spurs had a better season than Arsenal. But the table tells a different story and for good reason. Can you truly claim to have had a better season if your team collapses in spectacular fashion in the last four games of the season?
Arsenal were the best team in the first half of the season, topping the table in January for a few weeks as their title rivals all sputtered. Arsenal were also the most creative team in the League, fashioning more shots and more big chances than any other team. But Arsenal dropped off and finished second as Leicester beat all the top teams (except Arsenal!), strengthened their weaknesses, and took the League through superior defense. Saying that Tottenham were better than Arsenal this season would be like Arsenal fans saying that Arsenal were better than Leicester because Arsenal created more chances and had the better first half.
Arsenal, though, shouldn’t get too excited with finishing 2nd. Tottenham’s Spursy finish to the season doesn’t mean that they can be dismissed outright. They have a team that boasts the best young player in Europe (Dele Alli) and the Premier League Golden Boot winner (Kane). Arsenal boast the best playmaker in Europe (Özil), the best right back in the League (Bellerin) and the Premier League Golden Gloves winner (Cech). Arsenal, however, scraped a second place finish while carrying a lot of dead weight and next year’s Premier League looks like it’s going to be one of the toughest tests in years as Man City are getting Per Guardiola, Man U are getting Mourinho, and Chelsea won’t have any pesky European matches to play. If Arsenal want to keep North London red for a 22nd consecutive season they will need to strengthen this summer.