I wish I had been wrong. I wish all of my pessimism leading up to the North London Derby had not been quite so well placed. When I said to a friend, and fellow Spurs fan, that I feared we’d be thrashed on Sunday – with Walcott suddenly playing like he did for England in Croatia a few years ago – I would have preferred to be completely off the mark. In an e-mail chain that I am part of with some Tottenham supporters, the others on the group were talking about the possibility of us picking up four points from the games against Arsenal and Manchester United – this was how the conversation went from there:
Me: Four points?! Everyone knows we are away to Arsenal and home to Man Utd right? One point would be a surprise to me. Definitely lose this Sunday.
Reply: “Is it 2008?”
Me: “Is it 1961?! Spurs have lulled you into a false sense of security. After next weekend we will only be 4 points above the scum and on the brink of a collapse. This weekend is when Sherrod takes the spiked vial from Bubbs” (I have compared the life of a Spurs fan to the experience of watching The Wire and, once again, that analogy has been all too accurate.)
Replies: “Have faith John. I’ve shed my past Spurs skin and I’m now a believer. We’ll stuff those clowns down the road, then go in the Man Utd game full of confidence.”
“We’ll never have a better opportunity to beat them on Sunday.”
“Personally, I’ll be sorely disappointed with anything less than a 3-goal winning margin in our favour.” (To be fair, this one was sent in jest, but still)
Me: When Walcott slots in their fourth on Sunday – just realise it is ALL your fault
In my weekly Premiership predictions, I was 30 games under .500 going in to this weekend – did I have to be so correct for this game of all games?
How did Tottenham lull their fans into such a sense of optimism for this game against a rival that has consistently bested them for the last two plus decades? I wrote earlier in the week that it was hope that really destroys fans, rather than the expectation of defeat. They even got to me – when Adebayor slotted home the penalty to make it 2-0, I thought – maybe we can hang on and actually win this. Two goals in two minutes quickly dismissed those thoughts and I knew at half-time we were doomed.
Now, Spurs stand at a crossroads, they have just allowed their biggest rivals to resuscitate their campaign, while we are fearing a collapse and that we may struggle to maintain our lofty position in the league. Next week’s game against Manchester United takes on an added significance – another defeat could completely take the wheels off Tottenham’s season – and it is a match we will have to go in to without Scott Parker, after his sending off against Arsenal. March brings tricky away fixtures against Everton and Chelsea, but after that the run-in is kind. Should they pick up much needed points in those matches, Spurs should qualify for the Champions League next season – should we suffer more losses, it could be another Europa League campaign next year.
This game really showed up the weaknesses of the next England boss, Harry Redknapp. While he is without doubt an excellent motivator of his players, the Tottenham manager had no idea what to do when things turned against his team. Bale ended up on the right flank, despite the fact that he uses his right foot less than often than he manages to stay upright (the criticism I had of him in my midseason review – that he goes down and feigns injury far too often – remains a constant frustration). Redknapp brought on Van der Vaart and Sandro at half-time – two players who have missed that last few weeks through injury – and, unsurprisingly, both looked off the pace of the game. When Spurs were 2-0 up, without having played well but benefitting from a deflection and a penalty decision going their way, Harry had them sit far too deep in defence, encouraging Arsenal to attack them, rather than Tottenham continuing to put their shaky back four under pressure.
Arsene Wenger will have a new lease of life at Arsenal now, a win over their most hated rivals in such a stunning fashion will ensure that both the players and fans trust in him for at least a little while longer. Slightly further north, supporters who have got used to watching their team throw away leads in individual games, will be wondering if the seven point cushion they currently enjoy over Chelsea and Arsenal will disappear as quickly as a 3-0 half-time lead over a Manchester club has done in the past.