Recent games have dealt with the notion of ‘Arry as a tactical buffoon in no uncertain manner. In days gone by the signing of VDV, the plan to loan Bale to Nottingham Forest and the instruction to Pav to “go out there and f***ing run about” did little for our glorious leader’s reputation as tactical genius, and was grist to the mill of a whole army or interweb critics (mea culpa) who lambasted him for doing little more than closing his eyes, pinning a tail on a donkey and accepting the plaudits as his blind gamble paid off.
Lambast him no more, all ye armchair genii. ‘Arry’s switch to 3-5-2 and wing-backs against Stoke was a laudable moment of lateral thinking, which rather got swallowed up in the whole furore over referee Chris Foy, his trips to Specsavers and his Olympic cycling performances.
Then last week against Norwich, when faced with the non-Lennon problem again, he hit upon the startlingly effective idea of letting Walker and BAE take care of the flanks, and giving VDV and Bale free roles.
Whether this would work against Top Four types is still up for debate, but freeing Bale from the shackles of the left wing proved one of the best ideas since that chap in the bakery stopped juggling knives for lunchtime entertainment of his colleagues, and decided instead to plunge the things into the midst of the loaves and see what transpired.
The free role for Bale makes it dashed difficult for opposing Neanderthals to double- or triple-mark him, and also carries the potential for further ripping gallops straight down the centre, a la his second goal against Norwich. All those who can think of the foggiest reason why why this same strategy might not work again today, comment now or forever hold your breath in awe as Bale cuts swathes through the Swansea back-four.
Given that our fixture list tends to burst at the seams at this time of year, there may be a reason for a spot of starting XI rotation – but frankly that has rarely been ‘Arry’s modus operandi, so we can all probably close our eyes and reel off the starting XI right this minute. Play our usual game and it will be three more points to end the year.
All the best for 2012, ye lovely lovely people.
Many a time and oft my Spurs-supporting chum Ian has peddled the theory that Gareth Bale should be shoved right up the top, through the middle, and play as an out-and-out centre-forward. Outlandish it may be, but last night actually provided a glimpse of how the world would be run if Ian were King.
The Lennon Right-Wing Problem was solved by the novel solution of asking Kyle Walker to do the jobs of two men, and pretending it was not a problem at all – a solution that proved spookily effective, and left us at AANP Towers wondering how many more roles Walker could simultaneously adopt for the good of the team.
Meanwhile, VDV, Bale and Modders did whatever they jolly well pleased – which meant that Bale got to treat us to his Cristiano Ronaldo impression. He’s certainly got the attributes of a central attacking type – pace, power, control (if you pardon the lapse into Alan Hansenisms), as well as heading and shooting. For now it seems one best kept for special occasions, but a delightful little sub-plot may have been born.
Adebayor’s Phantom InjuryAdebayor’s quick feet in setting up Bale left me wondering how we ever tolerated all those interminable years of Crouch. There then followed a most curious medical phenomenon, as the hearts of just about every lilywhite in Christendom simultaneously skipped a beat at around 9pm GMT when Adebayor appeared to twang his hamstring and be out for the season. Oh how the walls of AANP Towers resounded with wails of despair. The denizens of this abode formed an orderly queue by the fifteenth floor window and prepared to hurl themselves out in despair, rather than face a second half the season minus the grinning Togolese – only for Adebayor mysteriously to un-twang himself and carry on just tickety-boo. Mighty queer.
Elsewhere On The PitchThe usual roll-call of excellence applies, with gold stars liberally distributed throughout the team. Sandro and Parker snuffed out every first hint of a Norwich attack, while Modders and VDV passed their midfield to death.
The Good Time Just Keep RollingThird place, and jolly well merited too. Keep playing this way and chances will continue to flow, wins will continue to accumulate. The occasional anomalous result will occur when the fates conspire against us, as at Stoke, but at the halfway stage a Top Four finish is ours to throw away.
Just when I had considered giving up on Father Christmas altogether, he fills my stocking with dropped points by all of Chelski, l’Arse, Liverpool and even Man City. And – and - he even un-twinges VDV’s hamstring. I’m not sure there has ever been a Christmas quite like it.
No reason not to expect another high-class performance, missed chances a-plenty and ultimately three more points tonight. Of course one can never really account for refereeing idiocy, opposition goalkeepers being possessed by the ghost of Lev Yashin past, or the general workings of Heurelho Gomes’ brain, but aside from such phenomena as wildly unpredictable and utterly impossible to prepare for, the Tottenham of the last dozen or so games ought to outscore Delia’s lot tonight.
Apart from VDV’s dainty upper legs, we may have a central defence crisis on our hands, with Ledley surely unable to churn out another 90 minutes so soon, and Kaboul apparently also tight of the hammie. All of which points towards the Close-Your-Eyes-And-Clasp-Your-Hands option that is Bassong. Defoe is also out, and quite how we deal with the Lennon absence tonight is anyone’s guess, but otherwise it’s the usual mob. It should be enough, which means that daylight between us and the chasing pack tantalisingly beckons.
Apologies for the tardiness – AANP Towers has been overrun by tiny people the last few days…
And it had all begun so well. Our lot spent the opening minutes pinging the ball between themselves with such dizzying rapidity that the only time a Chelski touched the thing in the opening ten minutes was that lad on halfway, who was promptly crunched by Sandro, releasing Bale to release Adebayor for our goal. Naturally enough this was the cue at AANP Towers for sense to take a back seat while I wondered quite how many we would score in the first half alone, and whether Barca would be able to live a Tottenham team in that particular mood.
But alas, Benny then decided that the spirit of goodwill required the bestowal of gifts, and five minutes later that Sturridge blighter ahd the freedom of the penalty area. Thereafter the game assumed a curious pattern, vaguely akin to that of an arm-wrestle – Chelski gaining the upper hand, but both sides spurning mighty presentable late opportunities for glory, and the rather mutual conclusion being reached, albeit rather ungraciously, that a point apiece was probably fair.
The Aaron Lennon-Shaped Hole: A ProblemThe principal conclusion to draw from a lilywhite perspective was that our heroes could do no better than scratch their heads and peer blankly at the Aaron Lennon-shaped hole that appeared on the right wing. Brazenly ignoring Einstein’s definition of madness as doing the same thing over again and expecting a different conclusion, not for the first time ‘Arry seemed to convince himself that VDV would be the solution on the right wing. The reality was that we appeared lop-sided and one man short while VDV was on the pitch, whilst the move to Modricise the right-wing in the second half was equally fruitless, and also deprived us of creativity in the centre.
Here at AANP Towers our occasional, feeble protests that BAE is the least good cog in a ruddy marvellous machine tends usually to attract polite coughs of protestation from lilywhites around the globe, but I maintain that he has too many avoidable mistakes in him for my liking.
All things considered however, the good ship Tottenham chugs along in rude health, even after this draw. Continue to beat 15 or so other teams, home and away, and the occasional draw against our Top Four rivals ought not to prove too damaging. Of greater concern was the general lethargy that set in early and remained throughout – a prompt, perhaps, for a little festive squad rotation. Nevertheless, more often than not we play the best football in the country (bar, perhaps, Man City), and the results tend to follow accordingly. This draw was no catastrophe.
Crunch time. This one could not be much bigger if it were written in size 72 font, stretched in a rack and then injected with muscle-steroid-type-things by that Russian giant of a chap David Haye beat a couple of years back. It’s not just the three points, which would give us a five-point platform from which to wave down at Chelski, with a game in hand. Winning this one would hint at a rather symbolic shifting of power within London and beyond, like the passing of the Olympic flame, but with a bit more blood and thunder and complaining from John Terry.
Beating that ‘orrible lot from down the road earlier this season hinted at a shift in power in Norf London, and while time will tell on that front, the panicky ramblings of l’Arse ‘keeper Szeszecnezcsnzy earlier this week, that their priority this season was to finish above our lot (ha!), signalled that times may indeed be a-changing. Send Chelski packing tonight, and we may be able to display a freshly bloodied scalp on the mantelpiece.
Bale and Lennon
Alas, the gods have amused themselves by flinging down injury bolts left, right and centre. Well certainly left and right at least. Lennon is definitely out, and Bale has chosen a curious time to impersonate AANP by spraining his ankle (wear a strap at all times lad, makes the world of difference). Good news for all those who pick inopportune moments to blink, and thereby miss a sprint of half the pitch by one of these two; but bad news for all lilywhite fans of the counter-attack. Or indeed attacks of a more generic sort. The pace and width of these chaps has been crucial in our merry march upwards. By the pricking of my thumbs a conundrum this way comes.
On Sunday ‘Arry responded to the absence of Bale by sticking Modders on the left; the withdrawal of Lennon then saw VDV switched to the right. Alas, for VDV in particular, “pace” sits well down the list of notable attributes, somewhere in between “magic tricks” and “intermediate Excel capabilities”. Whichever honest blighters are asked to deputise – and Kranjcar and Pienaar are also nominees - our style will undoubtedly alter tonight, and a lot more traffic will be diverted through the middle.
A Gentle “Keep Modders In The Centre” Petition
Here at AANP Towers we are pretty keen to see Modders deployed in the centre rather than the left. It may be harsh on Sandro, following his all-singing, all-dancing, all-conquering display alongside Parker, in centre-midfield on Sunday, but particularly in the absence of Bale-Lennon, Modders’ ingenuity is crucial for the orchestration of all things inventive. Whatever his choice, one hopes that ‘Arry has enlisted his finest team of monkeys to pore over the permutations and select wisely.
Other Injury Footnotes
Further selection frivolities are provided by Ledley’s knee, which presumably is the size of an unbraided Benny afro at present, after his 90-minute stint on Sunday. The return of Kaboul should at least help out there, whilst the official Spurs website has done little for the good of calm and order up and down the High Road by noting that Adebayor has hurt his foot.
In truth I suspect that Adebayor will be fine, nor would I be entirely surprised if Bale gambolled across the turf at some point tonight either. At full strength I would back our lot to the hilt, but given a few crucial absentees this looks less straightforward. Friedel, Gallas, Kaboul, Parker, Modders, Adebayor – this lot need to rise to the occasion tonight. Go get ‘em chaps.
Three more points, and all comfortable enough, but this being AANP Towers, and we being Spurs fans, I react to third place in the festive season not by praising our heroes, but by flagging up areas for improvement.
Specifically, I do beseech our heroes to make life a bit easier for all concerned by walloping opponents out of sight once in a while. Where Man Utd and Chelski in their pomp, and Man City in praesenti, methodically crown their dominance of any given 90 minute to-do by banging in fourth, fifth and six goals past opponents, our lot seem more concerned with running rings around our foes on the edge of the area, rather than actually scoring with such frequency that Church elders issue warnings about the ill effects of such thrashings upon society.
The party tricks and fancy flicks are dashed good entertainment, but at one-nil I hope you do not begrudge my temerity in suggesting they might be a mite premature. Not that ‘Arry ‘imself appeared concerned today, withdrawing Messrs VDV and Sandro in the closing stages with all the breezy confidence of a man lighting a cigar as his team rattle up double-figures, while Modders’ waywardness in front of a gaping net from a distance of around half a smidgeon was worthy of an official UEFA investigation into darn shady betting patterns.
It may seem indulgent as we toast our 11th win in 13, but aside from the 4-0 win over Liverpool, our lot have not really translated dominance and superiority into healthy score-lines – and the concern is that if we fail to kill off games, opponents may sneak ill-deserved late equalisers that ultimately cost us points in May.
BAE: Some Constructive Criticism
Aside from the issue of dedicated profligacy, a wary eyebrow is raised at AANP Towers over BAE’s mastery of the art of Delivering Left Wing Crosses So Wicked They Should Be Sentenced To Community Service. Particularly notable in the absence of Bale, BAE had numerous opportunities to slap the orb into the area and dance a merry jig of satisfaction as bedlam duly ensued, but if you can tear yourself away for one moment from the most curious mental image of BAE dancing a jig of any type you may recall that most of his crosses rather missed the target of assorted lilywhite types eagerly charging forward. Not a cataclysmic failing by any means, but in a team that motors from strength to strength in all areas, the left-back position still occasionally strikes me as one that may be improved upon slightly.
Job Well Done, And In Testing Circumstances
However, free drinks are nevertheless in order for our heroes, for this was a pretty important three points. ‘Twas most vital that we reacted to defeat last week with victory today, and to do so with such general verve (aside from the last 20 mins or so of the first half) was jolly reassuring.
Moreover, this was achieved minus the twin jet-heeled threats of Masters Bale and Lennon. The re-jigging was a curious one, with Pav’s entry, and the presence of VDV and Modders meaning that just about everyone out there had the urge to charge away from the wings and into the centre, but the quality of our play remained high, as evidenced by the charmingly inclusive build-up to our goal.
A particular mention of approbation is due to Sandro, whose general propensity for tearing about hither and thither reflected well upon a chap starved of first-team opportunities. One jolly well hopes that at least one of Bale and Lennon are fit for action come Thursday night, but with regard to today’s doings, pats on the various backs ought to convey the general sentiment.
“The measure of greatness is not how many you win, but how you react to defeat”. Or something along those lines. In fact, AANP may have invented that just now.
Anyway, the point is that the epithet has been fairly redundant for as far back as I can remember, as we would generally fail to win in the first place, and then react to defeat with another defeat, or a two-goal lead thrown away late on, or whatever. A changed beast these days however, to be sure. Win follows win, and all delivered with an élan unmatched by anyone else in the country.
Today however we need to react to defeat – simply by resuming normal service. In defeat at Stoke, at least in the second half, we did our usual thing and looked absolutely ruddy marvellous. Play our natural game, and even allowing for the New Manager Effect at Sunderland, we should dominate and overwhelm our opponents today.
Defoe Begins Chuntering
We are presumably without Kaboul today, following last week’s very deserved red card, so the return of Ledley would help; while the handy showings by Messrs Pienaar and Kranjcar in midweek won’t help them make the starting line-up, so they might as well give up on that dream now.
The inevitable murmurings of discontent have emanated from the frustrated mouth of Defoe, and one rather sympathises. When he has played this season he has scored – and then been dropped. Following the fairly ineffective showing of VDV last week, another omission at the expense of the Dutchman again today would not improve the mood at Casa Defoe. Over to you ‘Arry.
Have we ever had a less important match in our schedule? Friendlies aside, this is one of the greatest non-events in our history. With Sunderland and Chelski coming up in the League over the next week, and the cyanide-laced chalice of Europa qualification limited to mathematics equations of the absurd, ‘Arry would be forgiven for just leaving Clive Allen and Tim Sherwood to take care of the kids tonight, or maybe fielding Allen and Sherwood themselves.Our Europa failure will prove quite the barely-disguised blessing as the second half of the season begins and we continue the Top Four (or higher) push. If there is one worry about the absence of Thursday night non-events, it is that our gaggle of bench-warmers will become even more disillusioned and less match-ready, should injuries necessitate their promotion to Premiership duties. Gomes, Bassong, Corluka, Pienaar and Pav have at least had a chance to stretch their legs every couple of weeks – without the Europa league they may as well be replaced by a team of highly-paid cardboard cut-outs on the Tottenham bench.
These, however, are concerns for another day. Tonight we sign off, against an Irish troupe we really ought to demolish. Of the kids, Walker (and to a lesser extent Livermore) have earned first team status; Carroll and that moodiest of teenagers Townsend have looked handy; while for all his red-cheeked endeavour Kane has by and large looked out of his depth. Tonight, and possibly Cheltenham in the FA Cup, represent last chances for this lot to rub shoulders with the first teamers. If nothing else I rather hope they enjoy themselves.
Sitting down to type when one’s lip is literally still quivering with rage must surely be ill-advised, but how else to express sheer, undiluted incandescence? Here at AANP Towers we are generally loath to criticise the officials, since their job is jolly difficult, their mistakes are always honest and frankly I imagine that to a man the players make many more errors per game. And yet so many, high-profile and egregious were the faux pas of the officials today that I have little choice but to clear my throat and ask in the sternest tones, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”?
Stoke – A Handy Rugby Side
My sentiments on our triumphant opponents are hardly more complimentary, although unlike their friends in black the Stoke players could not be labelled necessarily incompetent. Talentless, for sure, but at least skilled at the unique brand of non-football they purvey. Stoke’s tactics were not entirely dissimilar to those of our burly rugger-playing cousins, who exalt in blasting the ball towards the heavens and scuffling over the scraps as it falls to earth, their principal aim being to get the ball into touch. But goodness, didn’t they do it well?
Our lot are hardly exempt from the quite terrifying wrath being meted out in this corner of the interweb. As AANP advances in years he holds ever greater regard for time spent sleeping, one of the most mysterious and wondrous gifts bestowed upon those with closable eyelids – but for goodness’ sake chaps, the first 25 minutes away to Stoke was hardly the time to indulge in a spot of shut-eye.
Alas, our heroes dozily trundled along in that opening quarter of the game, sleepily rubbing their eyes and adjusting their duvets as Crouch and his new chums watched the ball descending from the skies and duly sharpened their elbows. In truth the half-time deficit was deserved.
Second Half Improvement
Laudable proactivity from ‘Arry at half-time, and everyone (bar, perhaps, VDV) earned their weekly wage in that second period, with Modders notably contributing to the cause, and Bale and Walker adapting fairly comfortably to the mystical concept of “wing-back”, as the nature of the game gradually swung back from rugby to football.
‘Twas not to be however, such is life’s rich tapestry. The Adebayor disallowed goal, Shawcross handball, push on Kaboul and handball by Crouch were all fairly blatant; and on a particularly fortuitous day we might also have benefited from the push that floored Parker as we awaited a corner in the first half, and shot by Defoe that struck outstretched arms in the second.
A temporary blip then, one would imagine – but beware ye who tread the streets of North London tonight, for this particular irate fan will fix any passer-by with a glare of such vitriol that small children will howl in anguish and elderly women hurry to the other side of the road. Thoroughly, thoroughly exasperating stuff.
After a run of 10 wins in 11, and six in a row, the true connoisseur does not really want the record to grind to a halt against Stoke. Against Barcelona maybe, or the Harlem Globe Trotters – but not Stoke.
Stoke are actually a member of that elite and highly exclusive band of English teams that have indeed beaten us this season (cast thine mind back to our peculiar Carling Cup exit a few months back). Given our tendency to panic in the face of set-pieces, this lot could pose problems from their Delap uber-throws, while leading their line is a familiar-looking chap of elongated proportions, Peter Crouch now allowing the ball to bounce unpredictably off his angular cranium in the red and white of Stoke. It all points to a side at the very opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum. Beauty and Beast. He-Man and Skeletor. Tottenham and Stoke.
Still, the drill for our heroes does not differ from week to week - swarm all over them from the off, and take a few of the plethora of chances we’ll doubtless create. Empirical evidence suggests that it is a winning formula.
On the personnel front Gallas may again deputise for Ledley, while Defoe and Bale have chipped fingernails and tummy aches, but even so our lot ought blinking well to prevail. The VDV-Defoe question may once again be an issue; it should matter not. Defend well enough and up the other end the goals will flow.