Spurs lost this week 1-0, in what was overall an underwhelming performance. What makes the loss especially tough to take is that it came to Arsenal, only 4 miles through North London away, so as far as league-losses go this is one of the worst. What supposedly made it even more pointed was the accompanying storyline of Arsenal having spent nothing on transfers this summer while Spurs spent £109 million on seven new players. This was talked about ad nauseam by the commentators and, as a simple contrast goes, is pretty stark. Of course within hours of the final whistle, the storyline was completely reversed, Mesut Ozil was signed from Real Madrid by Arsenal for £42.4 million and Gareth Bale was sold for £85 million by Spurs to Real Madrid. So all told, Spurs signed 7 new players with a net loss of £26 million while Arsenal signed one (Ozil) and sold one other (Gervinho) for only £8 million bringing their net expenditures to roughly £34 million. Tottenham also sold four players earlier in the summer for a combined £24 million so really their net loss was £2 million. There are better analyses of Tottenham’s work this summer out there, but I hope this gives a reasonable summary of where we are right now.
Yet going into and during the match, the storyline was far too juicy for the presenters to ignore; spenders versus scrooges, buyers versus…whatever the opposite of someone who buys, but also doesn’t sell is. The numbers were stark, £109 million versus nothing, that point carried the attention and would have been the dominant narrative whatever the result may have been. But Arsenal won and so the Spurs came out bottom in nearly every sense, because in that sports cliché of sports clichés, “at the end of the day, the win is all that matters”. Arsenal was the better team for a good amount of the match and did just enough to get the three points. They looked like a team that were used to playing together and Tottenham looked hesitant and unsure of themselves even when they were dominating play for stretches in. Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, before he came off, and Flamini were very strong in the middle and were able to compete with the Unit for most of the match. Theo Walcott was a threat on the counterattack and the goal-scorer Giroud was able to find too much space in dangerous areas. Their backline looked shaky at times but was never really isolated enough by the Spurs’ attack.
This was probably the most disappointing aspect from a Spur’s point of view. For a team that has made a living off of counterattacking goals, Tottenham’s midfield was very timid with Paulinho, Dembele and Capoue (who was injured well into the second half and is out for a month) holding up play. One bright spot was Andros Townsend who playing on the right has looked like (dare I say it) a second coming of Mr. Bale and seemed the most likely to score. Soldado still has not found a real rhythm and looked isolated without any consistent support until Defoe came on. All of this must be taken with a 2-pound grain of salt though. The squad that Spurs have put together is undoubtedly stronger than Arsenal’s, even with Ozil, and with an injury here and there, the Gunners will be scraping an inexperienced team together. Tottenham have a depth that allows Andres Villas-Boas a wealth of options for both players and formations. Even with Capoue’s injury, AVB still has both offensive and defensive options in the midfield. With the latest signings of a young defender and a creative midfielder (included in the £109 million) the squad becomes that much deeper. Throwing a team that has not truly played together, four of who are recent signings, into an away derby fixture, as was done on Sunday, is a recipe for struggle. And it showed in Tottenham’s play, but that is not to say that there weren’t signs that this could be a very special group. Once this team does become more familiar with itself, the true quality of these signings will come through. Let’s just say that the return fixture at White Hart Lane should have a different storyline all together.