There are two ways to lose a derby. You can be victims of some perceived injustice: the ball that never crossed the line, the goal that was offside, the outrageous red card etc. Or you can be outplayed. Neither way is easy to stomach but personally I prefer the latter. Yesterday Spurs were outplayed. The result was fair. No arguments - no bitter, lingering resentment.
On New Years Day more or less the same Tottenham team beat the reigning champions of England on their own ground. They were able to do so because the attackers Ericksen, Adebayor and Soldado played really well. Yesterday, they did not and that, combined with the fact that Arsenal appear a better team than Manchester United, accounts for the defeat.
What did leave a nasty taste was Tim Sherwood’s assertion after the game that ‘we’ve certainly showed that we belong on the same pitch’ as Arsenal. If that’s something to trumpet, it signals a marked reduction in the scale of the team’s ambition. At the start of the season most fans looked forward to a campaign in which Spurs would finally overtake the Goons, possibly edging them out of the Champions League places in the process. To get to January and be pleased just to be able to give them a game is disappointing to say the least. But Sherwood is still learning the art of post match spin and the unpalatable fact is that Arsenal have improved enormously in the last year while Tottenham’s well documented upheaval has prevented commensurate progress.
Now that they are out of both domestic cups, Spurs’ season has a simple look about it. There is one remaining trophy to be won, the Europa League, for which they are second favourites, and there is a top four place to go for in the league. To realistically achieve one or both of these tall orders, a few things need to happen. First, the treatment room needs to get less crowded. The physioroom.com premier league injuries list currently shows Tottenham way ahead at the top of the chart with eleven of the first team squad incapacitated.
Second, the manager needs to show a little variety in his tactics. His predecessor AVB seemed to have only one formation and was heavily criticised for it. Tim Sherwood has adopted an old fashioned 4-4-2 almost as an antidote to AVB’s cautious approach but he too has yet to show that he can adapt tactically either to the opposition he faces or the twists and turns within a game. Arsenal outnumbered Spurs in midfield yesterday as anyone could have seen they would and they dominated the game because of it. Sherwood did not start an extra man in the centre and only evened up the numbers after Arsenal had scored their second goal.
Thirdly, of course, Tottenham will require what any team needs - a bit of luck. But yesterday luck would not have been enough. When you’re drawn away in the cup to the team that is top of the league, the distinct possibility is that you will get knocked out. Thats what happened, fair and square.
Time to move on.
@theodelaney is a writer and director at @hotspur_argyle and a regular contributor to the @spursshow