‘I finally won a trophy’ joked Mauricio Pochettino at the London Football Awards, the Spurs manager being presented the award for manager of the year. Pochettino’s joke was also timely as it came right after Spurs’ defeat at Chelsea, a hapless display at Stamford Bridge which means they’re now nine points off the top, with 10 games left, almost certainly consigning them to another trophy-less campaign (although they’re still in the Champions League).
Before the previous weekend, talk was starting to rise about the North Londoners being in the title race, Spurs were five points off the top as they went to Burnley, and with leaders Liverpool going to Old Trafford and second-placed Manchester City not playing that weekend, a win was likely to close the gap. But Pochettino saw his side stutter, as a 2-1 defeat at Turf Moor, after which the Argentine lost his rag at referee Mike Dean, meant they failed to gain more ground on the top two.
Then came that defeat at Chelsea, where they didn’t manage a single shot on target, and their night was capped off with an inexplicable own goal by Kieran Trippier. In the space of a week, Spurs have gone from title dark horses to on the verge of crisis, not helped by Poch saying the club will need some 10 years to get the right mentality. And this weekend sees Arsenal visit Wembley for the North London derby.
Spurs have had a habit of getting one over their rivals of late, not just on the pitch (they did lose the reverse fixture in December, though), but also in terms of league position, especially in respect to previous seasons. St. Tottenringham’s Day was a tiresome and overused term to describe Arsenal finishing over Tottenham, which happened every season between 1990/91 and 2015/16, a run of 26 campaigns, and in one of those, Arsenal, to rub salt on Spurs wounds, clinched the title at White Hart Lane. Then Spurs bucked that trend in the past two seasons, and have not only finished above Arsenal, but have looked a cut above them in the past two seasons.
Going into this derby, Spurs are only four points above the Gunners, meaning a defeat will see the gap close to one point. That means Spurs could, in the space of one week, go from 10 points ahead of their North London rivals to having a slender point lead over them. The prospect of three defeats in a row isn’t good either, nor is the potential psychological blow losing this game will bring.
Then again, they get this right, and things will start looking up again. A win against Arsenal may well seal their spot in the top four/three, act as a boost, and, alongside a potential qualification for the Champions League quarter-final (as they visit Dortmund on Tuesday) could do well to putting a terrible week behind them and give them another positive outlook, if not a way back into the title race.
The consequences of this game, positive or negative, could set the tone for the final three months of their season. A potential catastrophe could turn out to be morale booster, or vice-versa. The ghost of St. Tottenringham’s Day lingers.