This feels almost like the build-up to a cup match. Providing respite from the usual painful and laborious business of scraps against fellow relegation strugglers, we can all sit back on Sunday and marvel as our wondrous heroes miraculously forget how average they’ve been all season and suddenly improve their game ten-fold against l’Arse. The other lot are by no means invincible, or especially pretty these days, so we may indeed be able to secure the delusory yet priceless bragging rights for the rest of the season.The derby at the Emirates earlier this season was ‘Arry’s first official game in charge of us, so it would be tempting to view this return fixture at the Lane as a barometer of progress. However, a disclaimer is in order: win, lose or draw there’s not a lot that can be read into a game vs l’Arse. Should we win, or draw playing well, we’ll need to remember that l’Arse at home is never a true indication of our quality. Should we lose or draw luckily we’ll have to admit that there are still new faces in the team ‘Arry’s rebuilding. Any game vs that ‘orrible lot is something of an anomaly – much like a cup game.
However, as we face again his first opponents why not indulge in a spot of nostalgia, and hark back to that grainy black and white era when Ramos was jettisoned, ‘Arry was first installed and we skipped up to the Emirates for the start of a brave new ear. The bare statistics of ‘Arry’s reign to date do not look especially encouraging, as we’re still only a point of the drop zone. Tempting though it is to do the Spurs thing and leap to the nearest wildly inappropriate conclusion (in this case “’Arry’s useless, let’s sack him”, rather than “’Arry’s our saviour, give him the job for life”) it would be more useful – albeit rather dull – to adopt a measured approach.
On a general level, ‘Arry’s arrival has brought us a run of good luck and decent form in patches, but there have been enough insipid displays to serve as a warning that this season may yet end in disaster.
Credit where it’s due, one of the key problems appears to have been solved: goalkeeper. Let’s not forget quite how horrendous an issue this had become – once upon a time there was weeping and gnashing of teeth whenever we conceded a corner, so poorly judged and executed were Gomes’ forays off his line. He deserves enormous credit for his improvement, and ‘Arry probably merits a pat on the back here too, if only for brining in Tony Parks to work with the eternally wincing Brazilian. Meanwhile Cudicini has turned the position into arguably our strongest, an astute signing, even though it may, ironically, signal the end of Gomes’ Spurs career.
Other areas have been addressed rather less well. Amidst accolades of ‘Arry’s unique man-management technique, Bentley’s wonder-goal at the Emirates was supposed to catalyse the pretty-boy’s transformation into some sort of footballing deity, heir apparent to David Beckham as a fixture in the England team and terroriser of defences across the land. Fast forward three months, and for all the fancy flicks and brylcreem he’s put on display, we’ve yet to see the best of Bentley. A cross duly marked against ‘Arry.
Our esteemed manager continues to switch between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1, suggesting possible uncertainty about the approach he wants to adopt. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I guess he’ll settle upon a formation once he has his favoured personnel in place and raring to go. However, while he may blame the squad he inherited, I still think a good enough manager would by now have found a formation that works…
Sorry, I almost slipped back into “Sack-the-manager” mode. What I meant to say was that it’s still early days, an excuse we’ll probably have to accept until the summer, when ‘Arry really gets to shape the squad in his own image (ie ugly and with a twitch). Some of the problems having already been deemed insurmountable, he’s made a beeline for the transfer market, rather than try to use the players already at his disposal. Wafer thin midfield? Transfer market. No idea how to get Pav and Bent working together upfront? Transfer market.
While I think they’re all shrewd signings, it irks me a little that he couldn’t have squeezed more out of the crop of multi-million pound internationals he had at his disposal when he took over. Maybe that would have been asking too much of a full-time manager with several decades of experience in the English game.
However, these are just idle musings. It remains too early to pass judgement on the man’s time as Spurs manager, and one home game against the other lot should not colour opinions too much one way or t’other.