With Arsenal and Spurs way off the pace this season, James Bagby assesses the situation in North London.
Arsenal and Tottenham are in crisis. At the start of the season, not many pundits were predicting newly promoted Sheffield United to be sitting above the two rivals in the Premier League table. With the two teams woefully underperforming, there is no obvious winner to this bitter feud which leads to the question: who is better equipped to overcome their crisis and stake their claim as the king of North London?
Tottenham find themselves 14th in the top flight, 11 points off 4th spot and only 6 points off the drop. The warning lights have been flashing long before the start of this season though. Even on their incredible run to the Champions League final their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, was concerned for the future. Before their semi-final clash in Amsterdam, he even suggested he would walk away if they won the competition, describing it as a fantastic way to “close the five-year chapter.” Spurs went on to lose the final. Pochettino stayed, but it feels like Tottenham closed that chapter anyway.
Tottenham signed Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon in an attempt to rejuvenate the squad but a sustained period of neglect in the transfer market meant that their purchases were not enough. They were the first permanent signings in a year and a half and it had become clear that the squad was already stale. Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Danny Rose have all looked on the brink of leaving Tottenham but due to the lack of squad depth at the club they are still needed. It is easy to question the desire of players who may have already mentally checked out.
IT IS EASY TO QUESTION THE DESIRE OF PLAYERS WHO MAY HAVE ALREADY MENTALLY CHECKED OUT
It feels like a pivotal time in Tottenham’s season. They have the chance to turn around their disastrous form with games against West Ham, Olympiacos and Bournemouth. This run of form has seen them fail to win a Premier League game since September and away in the league since January. The winter transfer window will also be key in turning around their malaise by allowing disenchanted players to leave while bringing in fresh faces who have the drive to succeed at Tottenham.
Gunners or Goners?
Arsenal find themselves in 6th place but due to the congested nature of the league, only 3 points above Tottenham. They went into the season with the clearly defined objective of a top four finish but find themselves eight points off this already. They also have a terrible away record that has seen them fail to win on the road since the opening weekend.
Their manager, Unai Emery, looks lost on the side-line and despite a promising start to his reign as Arsenal manager, he now looks doomed for the sack. He has been unable to successfully imprint his style of football on an extremely talented squad. However, it is the issues off the pitch that have landed the Gunners in crisis.
When Granit Xhaka was appointed as the first of a group of five captains at the start of this season more than a few eyebrows were raised. Many Arsenal fans view Xhaka as the embodiment of their issues on the pitch and some say that he isn’t even good enough to start. The fans and Xhaka came to loggerheads when his substitution against Crystal Palace was greeted by cheers from the home section. He responded by cupping his ears to the crowd and clearly mouthing a f*** off. Jeers turned to boos as he stormed off down the tunnel in what may be his last appearance for Arsenal. Arguments could be made around the merits (or lack of) around booing your own player but one thing is clear: he should never have been appointed captain.
THE PATH OUT OF CRISIS DOES NOT LOOK OBVIOUS FOR ARSENAL
A poor management structure let him down, leaving him in a situation he should never have been exposed to. There’s a disconnect between the hierarchy at the top of Arsenal and the football on the pitch. This has been demonstrated by the failure of new signings, Nicolas Pepe, Kieran Tierney, David Luiz and Dani Ceballos, to establish themselves successfully within the first team. All players were signed under the new recruitment strategy set up by new technical director Edu.
The path out of crisis does not look as obvious for Arsenal. Cries for sacking the manager could improve their position, but it by no means ensures a path back to the Champions League, a competition they haven’t played in since the 2015/16 season. This demonstrates the issue with Arsenal, who’ve been in crisis for years, unable to get into a tournament which should be their priority every season.
And the winner is…
While Arsenal fans have witnessed their club on a downward spiral of chronic underperformance since the late Wenger era, Tottenham’s crisis is a result of lack of investment in the first team and coming to the end of a cycle – something much easier to escape from than the institutionalised issues at Arsenal. It’s not immediately obvious who will put their failure behind them fastest, but one thing is for sure: it’s a good time to be a Chelsea fan.