Short-handed Spurs botch expectations game

In the most hyped match of the weekend Spurs sputtered and Arsenal took advantage. Que the predictable stories mocking Spurs as second rate to Arsenal and far off the top four. Scorelines write the headline, even when they shouldn’t. Arsenal won and thoroughly deserved to, but a 3-0 scoreline does not tell the whole story.

However, Robbie Keane deserves to be mocked. Keane would have done well to keep his mouth shut. Instead of hyping the game and antagonizing Arsenal by saying Spurs were deeper than the Gunners, Keane should have aggressively downplayed the game’s significance for Spurs and talked up its significance for Arsenal. There should have been NO pressure on Spurs to win, or even draw this game. After all Tottenham were missing there three best attacking players (Modric, Lennon, Defoe), in addition to wunderkind Gio Dos Santos – whose pace and ability to run with the ball could have certainly made a difference. In addition, the game was at Arsenal.

Spurs simply couldn’t play like a top four side, due to too many key players missing. I am shocked that in the aftermath of this game how little was made of Tottenham missing critical components. The ESPN announcers even tried to belittle this point, saying Arsenal were missing Walcott and Denilson. Please. Those are good players, but no team is going to be able to cope well missing their best offensive players. Luka Modric is as important to Spurs as Fabregas is to Arsenal (sure not as good as Cesc, but he is world class), Lennon is Spurs’ Arshavin, and Defoe the Van Persie. Arsenal missing Fabregas, Arshavin, and Van Persie, is a much much different animal. Still very good, but not nearly as dangerous.

It is therefore no wonder that Spurs approached this game like a bottom table side – since they simply lacked the weapons to go after Arsenal. In the first 42 minutes of the game Tottenham put on a clinic for bottom half sides on how to get a result against Arsenal.

Spurs stuffed the midfield, marked Fabregas out of the game and had Arsenal rattled and frustrated, leading to some murmurs and boos from the Emirates crowd. The problem is that if you are going to play that way you cannot make mistakes. The first goal wasn’t really a “mistake” and credit to Van Persie, but it came out of nothing and King and Gomes both could have done better. The second goal, well Redknapp rightly said “we committed suicide.”

In the end, Keane was proven very wrong. Tottenham lacked firepower to really go after Arsenal, which was exemplified by David Bentley who offered nothing. Harry had little speed on his team and no one who could effectively launch a counter attack. Huddlestone frequently got the ball looked down field and had no options – there was no one to pass to. He was like a quarterback going to his fourth read, forced to dump the ball off to the running back. Much of this was due to the 4-5-1 with Keane and Jenas being too deep and the total ineffectiveness of Bentley. One has to wonder why Harry did not go with Niko Kranjcar who offers much more zip and creativity than Bentley.

Managing expectations is critical. Yet Spurs consistently botch this by always raising, never lowering expectations. The way the British press works any sign that expectations are not going to be met, raises talk of crisis, which only puts more pressure on a team and a manager. Harry was even forced to address whether there was a bit of “crisis” after the game, since Spurs lost two straight. Redknapp correctly mocked the question, saying yeah now we are worried about staying up. Spurs can finish top 4 this year and Harry was right to say so. They have the quality to do so, once a couple players return. But the way they are going to get their is not proclaiming their greatness, but by stealthily accumulating points by beating bottom tier sides and breaking even against the top. The British press make too much of the big clashes. Sure they are important, but last year Man U won the league despite having a poor record against better sides, and Spurs finished far a field, despite having a very good record against the big clubs. Why? Because Man U beat the teams they were supposed to beat, while Spurs failed to. That is they key. Not beating Arsenal away.


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