Oh me of little faith! Prior to last Wednesday’s crucial game against Newcastle at Wembley I’d written one of my usual negative articles, basically lamenting how we’d hit a poor run of form at just the wrong time and seemed on course to throw away what had seemed, after our great win at Chelsea a few weeks back, a virtually guaranteed fourth spot. Luckily, it never got through for publication since, not for the first time, I got everything wrong. To give you a flavour of it, here below is the first paragraph:
“Tense, nervous headache? Depressed? Anxious? Angry? Prone to feelings of worthlessness? Feel that everyone is laughing at you? You need:
TO STOP SUPPORTING SPURS!!!!!!!
Sadly, though it’s a nice thought, and one that would undoubtedly improve my quality of life, I – like, I suspect, any reader(s) of this article – can’t bring myself to do that. And so, I will just suffer for another few days before the inevitable happens and our beloved team complete the project they started five games ago, which I’ve called:
HOW TO REMOVE THE ‘UN’ FROM THE PHRASE ‘UNASSAILABLE LEAD’ AND GIFT YOUR ONLY RIVALS FOURTH PLACE!!!!!!!!”
Though I didn’t actually predict us dropping points to Newcastle and/or Leicester I did most certainly express the fear that we would, so laboured had our recent play become, and given that both of those teams could, unlike us, relax, having nothing but pride to play for. I most certainly did predict that Chelsea would beat Huddersfield, and that, thus, whatever the Newcastle result, we would need something from the last game, against a Leicester team that we have often struggled against.
My worst fear was that we would repeat our error of the WBA game and forget that, more than a ‘must-win’, the Newcastle one was a ‘must-not-lose’ game, since a draw would at least keep us above Chelsea on goal difference going into the last game and leave our fate in our own hands. Imagine if Chelsea had breached Huddersfield’s heroic defence a second time and we had lost on Wednesday; could anyone see us beating Leicester 5-4 and Chelsea losing 3-0 to Newcastle if we’d gone into those games with Chelsea a point above us? Anyway, in the event, far from my worst nightmares being realised, the Wednesday results instead threw the one dream scenario I’d not dared to contemplate – qualification for Champions’ League guaranteed and a chance to enjoy Sunday with no pressure on.
So, to a review of the season. First off, I seem to recall at the end of the 2016/17 season predicting that having to play our home games at Wembley would make our finishing in the top four highly unlikely, given how miserably we’d performed there in our Champions’ League group and Europa League games, and how we’d still lost to Chelsea in the one game we’d played quite well in, the FA Cup semi-final. Consequently, Pochettino’s claim that we have done remarkably well to finish 3rd while essentially playing 38 away games is entirely reasonable. And, if I had to choose, I’d take Champions’ League qualification over actually winning a cup, especially as we’ll be in our new super-duper ground next year and wouldn’t want to be entertaining teams we’ve never heard of whose names we struggle to pronounce from some remote corner of Eastern Europe on Thursday nights in the interminable shit-fest that is the group stage of the Europa League.
That being said, I disagree with Pochettino to some extent and subscribe to the view that, if you look at how we managed to lose to Juventus and later to Man. Utd. in said cup semi, actually getting ourselves over the line in first place somewhere, somehow, and our hands on a trophy, even whatever the League Cup is called these days, might just be the missing link for this team and give us a real, sustained, trophy-winning mentality. We’re generally far from a soft touch, home or away, these days, insipid displays at Utd and Arsenal, and both games against Man. City, apart, and our great group-stage performances in the Champions’ League and the long unbeaten league run, ending in seven straight victories, that hauled us up from an early season position trailing Chelsea, Arsenal and Burnley to a 4th spot ten points clear of Chelsea in 5th, means it would hardly be fair to say we do not have a winning mentality. But, we have developed a habit, or should I say ‘not got out of the habit’ of losing the really crucial games; the knock-outs, the one-offs, the ones where there’s no chance to catch up, no second chance. Finding the key to that locked door is what we need now to progress.
Pochettino’s rather enigmatic statements on how we reach that next stage are being interpreted by the media as him asking Daniel Levy to ‘splash the cash’. I daresay a lot of Spurs fans agree that that’s what he should do, too. But is this what we want for the club? Do we want to be paying a fortune for greedy kids (naming no names but I hear Raheem Sterling is already holding out for an improved deal at City), with even greedier parasitical agents (Pogba’s agent reputedly got paid by both the buying and selling clubs, creaming off more than £20 million for the one deal in the process), unsettling the whole squad? Would the likes of Harry Kane have ever got a look in in such circumstances? I, for one, would rather not have a team of short-term mercenaries who kiss the badge for as long as their agent allows in front of fans singing ‘There’s none of our own’, even if it is a winning one.
For me, there has got to be a pragmatic compromise. I would suggest that such a compromise would involve Levy recognising the progress we’ve made and acknowledging the reality of the politics of inflated-wage envy amongst many modern footballers, to the extent of paying higher, but not ridiculously high, wages to some top players and letting Pochettino sign the odd older player who might not fit in with the policy of ‘buy ‘em young’ but who might give us something extra for a season or two. In return, Pochettino acknowledges that his own success has been measured so far, not in tangible trophies, but in his ability to forge a team spirit, increase fitness, improve players and bring young players through and that ditching this and a sensible wage structure entirely to follow the example of the Manchester clubs is not the way to go, particularly when there is a new stadium to pay for.
Dembele and Alderweireld will apparently both be on their way this summer. Dembele has hit his brilliant best only sporadically and has become prone to game-changing losses of the ball in dangerous areas too often and to repeated injuries recently, while, despite being the rock upon which our drastically improved defensive performances have been built in recent seasons, Alderweireld’s relationship with the club seems to have irrevocably broken down. So, while I’ll be sad to see them go, it’s probably the right time and at least we should get a decent return, particularly for Alderweireld, that we can use to make new signings. No doubt there’ll be a few others going and I’m sure fans will have plenty of opinions on who they should be. I have no firm views on transfers out, though I believe we are lacking in a few areas and have certain players that it might be difficult to accommodate in our team. Lamela, for example, is something of an enigma. He is obviously talented, and prepared to work, but I can never quite see where he should be playing to our best advantage: is he a winger, a forward or a midfielder? Maybe it’s time for him to move on. A really top-class left back, one who can both defend and cross the ball wouldn’t go amiss either.
Anyway, an interesting close-season awaits, not just to see who we draw in the Champions’ League, how we play in the new stadium, and who leaves and who comes in, but also to relish another season of Arsenal Europa League discomfort, compounded, hopefully, by several panicky managerial appointments that helps their fans to realise, as Joni Mitchell once sang, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.’
To finish, I’ll return to what I said at the end of the previous unpublished article referred to at the start of this one. I acknowledged that I was a miserable old git, usually only being moved to write when something bad had happened and I needed to vent my spleen, and promised, should my fear of us losing out on Champions’ League qualification prove unfounded, to give anyone who reads this stuff a break from the relentless negativity by retiring from writing these articles. I think I ought to hold myself to that, and do readers, and myself, a favour; consider this, then, an end to my season’s bleatings.
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