Soccer

Are Tottenham in Crisis?

As an Arsenal fan this next line is a tough one to write, but over the past five years Tottenham have overtaken us as kings of North London. For the past three years Spurs have finished above Arsenal, feasting on Champions League football as the Gunners make do with the Europa League.

After moving into their new 62 000 seater stadium last year, the future should be looking rosy. Aside from their Champions League heroics last season, the results on the pitch haven’t met expectation. After being a model of how to run a club well, are Tottenham now in crisis?

Pundits and fans alike have begun questioning Tottenham, after a hangover from a poor end to last season continues. They sit sixth in the Premier League after seven games, already five points behind Manchester City and ten behind Liverpool. Tottenham are not competing with the likes of City and Liverpool, but they cemented themselves as the third best team in the league in recent seasons.

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Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham players celebrate their historic progression to the Champions League final. The feeling around the club has changed massively in the six months since this photo. Photo: Press Association

Now, even that distinction is under threat. Arsenal are currently above them, but haven’t played well. Chelsea are under a transfer ban and have an inexperienced manager, and Manchester United have their worst squad in years. It’s not that these three clubs have stepped up, it appears at this stage that Spurs have regressed to their level. Currently the third best team in the league is none of these, but Leicester and based on performances they can stay there.

The results haven’t looked good the entire year. Of the 24 Premier League games they’ve played in 2019, their record is: 11 wins, 4 draws and 10 losses. That form puts them 9th in the table, with the performances matching these stats.

Tottenham have struggled through a tumultuous summer. Key players Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are all out of contract next summer, with manager Mauricio Pochettino using them sparingly this season. The club could be allowing £175m to walk out the door for nothing next year, and the squad has suffered.

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Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen smile in happier times. Now both, along with Vertonghen’s defensive partner Toby Alderweireld, are likely to leave next summer for free. Photo: Jorg Schuler/Getty Images.

 

Tottenham have always been punching above their weight with their performances, and this is reflected in their overall squad depth. The likes of Juan Foyth, Serge Aurier and Victor Wanyama haven’t stepped up. Spurs have had a small squad in recent years, and their suffering for it now. The first eleven can match anyone in the league, but with contract sagas and injuries the squad rotation players haven’t played well enough to keep them competitive.

The one shining light for Spurs in 2019 has been their run to the Champions League final. Despite losing 1-0 to Liverpool, even making the final was a massive achievement. This season they can’t let that distract them, having started this years competition poorly. Throwing away a 2-0 lead away at Olympiacos was compounded by a humiliating 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich this week.

The reason the squad depth is an issue is because of their frugal chairman Daniel Levy. He is renowned for being stubborn in the transfer market, who doesn’t vary from his own valuations of players. This is why the club didn’t sell Eriksen, Vertonghen or Alderweireld in the summer.

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Spurs net spend figures are skewed by their big spending this summer. Without this, they would be a mid-table club in terms of net spend. Photo: Transfermarkt.

Since 2015 Spurs have a net spend of -£120m, with £90m of that coming this summer. The big money moves for Tanguy Ndombele (£54m) and Giovani Lo Celso (£55m) have covered up the fact that for the previous four years their net spend was -£30m, with the club famously going over 500 days without signing a player. Compared to their rivals: Chelsea (-£142m, Arsenal (-£335m) and Man Utd (-£554m) they haven’t spent to their level and this is hurting the team.

Another factor behind the poor performances is the seemingly obvious disharmony in the squad. Tottenham are known to be frugal with the wage budget, offering players below market value wages with big incentives. This has worked up until now, as the players have bought into the project at the club, but this season it appears the wheels are falling off.

There is the ongoing contract issues with Eriksen, Alderweireld and Vertonghen, all of whom are likely to leave next summer for free. Danny Rose publicly said he wanted to leave in the summer, and Hugo Lloris has previously said he will leave if Pochettino goes. The players know they could leave the club to win trophies and earn higher wages, so it will be tough for the club to keep their best players if they don’t win this season.

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Tottenham players look dejected on a humiliating night for the club. Losing 7-2 at home to Bayern Munich only heightens the pressure on this team. Photo: Press Association.

The reason I say this season is because it’s not just the players other clubs have been scouting. It’s manager Mauricio Pochettino. He was heavily linked with both the Real Madrid and Manchester United jobs this year, and it’s well known he has a rocky relationship with Levy. Much like the players, he wants to take the next step in his career and the club don’t seem to be able to satisfy his ambitions anymore.

He’s been with the club for five years now, and some in the media have questioned whether it’s simply the end of his cycle. Maybe the players are not listening to him as intently as they have in previous years, or maybe he has grown weary of challenging but ultimately failing to win trophies.

This season feels like a big turning point, with the current trajectory the club is on isn’t healthy long-term. They look to have slipped back this season, although it’s still early, with off-pitch turmoil only compounding their problems. It’s unclear who will still be at the club next season, with a season of regression only making it more likely key players or management would leave. Could the Pochettino era be coming to an end?

What do you think about this? Let me know in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who read this blog I really appreciate it!

January Improvements Needed at Arsenal

The Unai Emery revolution is six months in at Arsenal, with both positive and negatives to draw from the start he has made. The atmosphere around the club has improved and the team is playing with more intensity this season, however some old questions still linger with this side.

This is not to be unexpected as the squad is largely the same as under Arsene Wenger, and this is certainly not Emery’s fault as he has improved many of the Arsenal team already this season. The Christmas period was a difficult one for Arsenal, with a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Brighton on Boxing Day, and then a 5-1 humiliation at Anfield against title-challenging Liverpool three days later.

The revolution is underway at Arsenal, and compared to last season we currently sit one place higher in fifth with 41 points, three more than at this stage last year. Now this is small progress for the club and this shouldn’t be criticized, however a common issue for Emery this season has been the depth in quality of this squad.

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Rob Holding being stretchered off with a torn ACL in their 2-2 draw with Manchester United last month. Holding has improved under Emery and his absence is keenly felt. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images.

The biggest issue this season has been the defence, we have the joint ninth worst record for conceding goals, shared with Watford and Everton, with 31 goals conceded in 21 games. That’s also only worse than Manchester United and West Ham in the top ten. A massive reason for this has been our wealth of defensive injuries, with Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos all out injured for long periods of the season.

The loss of Bellerin and Holding proved especially tough, with both starting the season in good form anchoring the back four. The recent return of Koscielny is a boost, although he has admitted his return from injury was slightly rushed because of the defensive injury crisis. The good news is that Bellerin and Mavropanos return in the coming weeks, providing greater depth which should help ease the defensive problems of Arsenal.

Now that the January transfer window is open, Arsenal could use this month to improve their squad for a late-season push for a return to the Champions League. By and large the summer signings have proved a success so far, with Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno making instant impacts at the club. All five signings such as Sokratis, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner have made over 15 appearances this season, showing how much they’ve added to the team this season.

The triumvirate transfer committee of Emery, head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and director of football Raul Sanllehi have shown that they can be trusted to find promising talent at affordable prices, but will they pull the trigger on anyone else in January?

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Lucas Torriera has been the midfield pitbull Arsenal have craved for a decade. The club will be hoping to replicate their success in the market in the coming summer. Photo: Getty Images.

The early names linked have been out of-favour Chelsea defender Gary Cahill on a short-term loan, and the ever-present midfielder Ever Banega. The move for Cahill is a more likely one, as the club are already making noises that there will not be much if any money to spend this month. Chelsea could however be unwilling to loan him to a direct rival, and some will have legitimate questions as to whether his quality at this stage of his career is enough to make a big contribution for Arsenal.

From all of the noises being put out by the club and the media closely associated with the club, it appears that Arsenal will be quiet in this window, with a focus instead of spending in the summer to improve key positions such as at winger and defensively.  The team had great attacking options last season, and they have now fixed the defensive midfield and goalkeeper positions.

The first six months of Emery’s reign have been a success so far, with an improvement in results and the performance of previously poor key squad players. The new transfer committee will need to build on they’re early success, and if they can, Arsenal will definitely begin to more seriously rival the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and bitter rivals Tottenham.

Thank you for reading this article if you have any thoughts on it please feel free to leave a comment below. For any interested I’m on Twitter @JWjournalism.