It's North London Derby week, which brings with it a special level of...something. For newer fans, the NLD may lack the intensity of a game against City or Chelsea, but for those of us that have been around a while, nothing angries up the humours in the blood faster than the prospect of a game against That Lot. The stakes may be low, but "stakes" aren't always shiny tin pots - sometimes they're nothing more than the visceral hatred of The Other for no other reason than that it feels good when The Good Guys win.
All that aside, though, the crew over at Cartilage Free Captain are good people, and one of those good people, Uncle Menno, took some time out of his day to answer my questions about his favorite team. Let's light this candle!
TSF: Since this is the first meeting between the two teams this season, let's play a quick round of What Did You Do Last Summer. How did Spurs do in this summer's shopping? Overall was it a success, or were there opportunities missed?
CFC: The summer transfer window was a bit of a mixed bag for Spurs. On the one hand, we once again made money in the window which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what faction of Spurs fandom you belong to. The theme of the window was "defense" as it was the area that was of the most concern coming off of last season's train wreck of a campaign. We brought in Federico Fazio to shore up our back line, Ben Davies to give competition to Danny Rose at left back, Michel Vorm to replace Hugo Lloris after we sell him to Real Madrid next summer (*sob*), Benjamin Stambouli as a rotation option at DM for Etienne Capoue, and Eric Dier for that wonderful and oft-neglected CB/ST flex position.
In exchange we shipped off Lewis Holtby, Gylfi Sigurdsson, fan favorite Sandro, and our long-time stalwart captain Michael Dawson. Selling Sandro, Holtby, and Dawson were unpopular decisions with a lot of fans because they were all beloved at the club, but ultimately it was the correct decision as it slimmed down the squad and made room for younger, better players.
We'd be forgiven if we'd also include Erik Lamela in our list of "new acquisitions" as he's finally healthy and is looking like he's going to be worth the £30m we paid for him last summer. All in all, I call it a net positive gain. Supporters were clamoring for a striker, but apart from Welbeck, who we made a play for, there didn't seem to be that many good options available.
TSF: How is Mauricio Pochettino settling in? Do the fans like him so far?
CFC: If you view the relationship between Poche and the Spurs fan base as a courtship, they're still pretty much on the first date where they go out to dinner and get to know each other. There's always a certain sub-set of fans who will not support Poche no matter what he does because he's not Harry Redknapp, but thankfully those are few and far between.
After the Yakkity-Sax year we had last season with AVB and Tim Sherwood, I think most fans are more than willing to give Poche not only a chance, but the benefit of the doubt. He has made some tactical choices already that play to the strengths of the existing squad, and I don't think there's any argument that, West Brom match aside, we look a lot better than we ever did last season under AVB or Tim Sherwood.
TSF: Given Spurs' recent management history, will Pochettino be given time to build his system with his players, or should he be managing while looking over his shoulder?
CFC: The "Daniel Levy fires his managers" meme is a bit of a zombie lie, as there are precious few clubs (Arsenal, Man United, Everton) who have had fewer managerial shifts than Spurs over the same number of years. In fact, in relation to the rest of the league, I'd classify the number of managerial changes at Tottenham Hotspur as "average." It's been a bit Clown College since Redknapp, sure, but AVB was a disaster and Tim Sherwood was emphatically lol, and I don't think any of the changes (including Harry) were fully without merit.
I get a different sense with Pochettino this time around. He has a long-term deal, for starters, and my feeling from the club is that Poche will get the time he needs to put his stamp on the club, regardless of what happens with Tottenham this year. Murmurs from the club and from Southampton supporters are that Poche is the real deal and will be given time. Spurs fans are hoping that we've found our Brendan Rodgers. There will be growing pains, sure, and times when we'll wonder if he's a crazy person, but I would be utterly shocked if he needs to worry about his job for the foreseeable future.
TSF: After a solid start to the season, it's been two losses and a draw in the league. Is there an identifiable cause for this, or is it just one of those blips teams go through occasionally?
CFC: Our writers have had some good discussions on our podcast, Wheeler Dealer Radio, about this very question lately. When you look at the results thus far, it's difficult to get a real sense of whether we're a good or a bad team because the underlying reasons behind the results were all different. Throw out the West Ham result since we went down to 10 early and it was a really weird match. We looked like world beaters against QPR, lost to a superior Liverpool team in somewhat suspect circumstances, and had an unlucky draw against Sunderland in a match that we really dominated. Then we went and laid an egg vs. West Brom.
I think this is a team that is still trying to find its identity under a new manager and with a few new cogs in the machine. There's definitely a style that Pochettino wants Spurs to play, and early matches aside I'm not convinced that he's quite figured out what his first choice starting 11 is. Fazio hasn't yet featured in the league, we've had a bit of rotation at CM, and Emmanuel Adebayor has been almost our default starter due to an early injury to Roberto Soldado. It's a bit frustrating for fans, since we all wanted to head into the NLD on a bit of a surge, but what are you going to do?
There are, of course, hopeful signs. Lamela has been a revelation, and Harry Kane is showing early indications of becoming a very good striker. I think (hope) things will come together with time, but this is a team for which fourth place is probably a pipe dream and wins against the top three will be difficult to come by.
TSF: Now, it's time to play Match Game. I'm Arsene Wenger, I have a whiteboard in one hand and a marker in the other. I look my team in the eye (not all at once, I'm not Sauron), and I say "Gents, if we want to beat Spurs today, we have to (blank)".
CFC: The glib answer is "get lots of set pieces" since we suck at defending them. The more serious answer is "boss the midfield." Spurs are most effective when they utilize a stifling midfield press and are able to pass the ball centrally in the center of the pitch, something that has been a real point of emphasis. Under Pochettino, Spurs like to play with two inside forwards on the flanks (Lamela and Chadli) and likes fast fluid movement and through-balls. Shut down the pivot and you vastly reduce service to the striker and the wide forwards, and that reduces Spurs' effectiveness.
Likewise, if you can get Spurs out of their midfield press, or if you can harry Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb/Mousa Dembele into making dumb turnovers, then Spurs have shown a weakness to the counter. Dier isn't really a right back but he impressed early and hasn't yet lost his place. And if one or both of Chiriches and Kaboul start at CB Spurs could have a really bad time against speedy players like Walcott, Sanchez, and Wilshere.
TSF: To conclude, any predictions for the game?
CFC: Arsenal are playing well, and Spurs, uh, aren't yet. There are hopeful signs in place, and I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see it coming together this weekend. There hasn't been enough progress in this "work in progress." I say 3-1 Gooners.
Many thanks to CFC and Uncle Menno for taking the time to chat. Want to read my answers to his questions? Head over to Cartilage Free Captain.