Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bottle Broken: Tottenham Hotspur 2 - Arsenal 1

photo by Julia Manzerovavia PhotoRee

If not broken, there must have been at least a few empty bottles in Correspondent James' office after Spurs' victory over Arsenal in the North London Derby on Sunday:

One of the things we love about English footie is the extent to which the clubs tend to adhere to long standing historical attributes, irrespective of changes in owners, managers, grounds, etc.  This is particularly true of Spurs with their “To Dare Is To Do” ethos.  Their tradition is of winning trophies and of wide open, fluid, daring, European football and they’ve pretty consistently stuck with that same methodology over their 130 years or so of existence.

Of course, one of the attributes that has caused untold amounts of psychological trauma for supporters over not quite so long a time frame (thinking early 70's, apart from the odd League Cup thrown in) has been Spur’s tendency toward psychological fragility or, as the English like to say, to “bottle” it.   At the decidedly Spurs-like risk of jinxing this thing in its infancy, it may very well be time to pronounce this particular historical attribute dead and buried.  And what better time to do so than on the heels of an euphoric derby victory against Arsenal?

Yesterday’s victory pretty much epitomized how Spurs have generated their current unbeaten run of 14 in all competitions.  It has not always been pretty.  It has not always been all that daring.  Most of these matches have been taught nail-biting affairs – down to the wire scrapes that Spurs have historically lost many more times than won.  The point against United in the snow when Dempsey scored in injury time.  A come from behind win at the Stadium of Light.  A 67th minute wonder strike from Bale at the Hawthorns.  Another one in the 80th at Carrow Road.  Bale’s match winner in the 87th against Newcastle, injury time at West Ham, and the two ridiculous free kicks against Lyon.  And then Dembele with a minute left on the home leg against Lyon.

And then yesterday against the hated rival.  Holding -- holding! -- a one goal lead for most of the second half while the goalie, center halves and defensive midfielder played with cajones the size of church bells.  And this on the one year anniversary of the painful and historic collapse at the hands of Arsenal last February and of AVB’s sacking at Chelsea.

Much credit for yesterday and the season as a whole rightfully goes to Gareth Bale, but it is misguided to call Spurs a one man team and to not give Andre Villas-Boas his due.  Spurs are playing with a mental toughness this season that may very well be unprecedented in their history.  That Bale ran immediately to embrace AVB after his wonder strike to rescue Spurs at West Ham was no accident.  AVB has constructed a style of play for this team that may be lacking in the fluidity of Spurs' teams of the past but takes full advantage of Bale’s talents and accommodates the lack of the deep lying play maker since the departure of Luka Modric.

More importantly, there is an obvious sense of focus, belief and – dare we say it – happiness that is exuded from this squad and seems to enable them to soak up waves of pressure and win these tight games.  It was noted in this excellent Guardian piece by Sean Engle that, after a recent visit, Gary Mabutt marveled at how happy everyone was at the Enfield training ground from the players to the support staff.

If Spurs continue this run, with a realistic shot a third and a Europa League trophy, they won’t be the only ones.

This is farlieonfootie for March 5, 2013.

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