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North London Derby preview: talking Tottenham with Cartilage Free Captain

I asked my good friend Dustin from our sister ship a few questions, and got a major concession.

still one of my favorite moments
still one of my favorite moments
Clive Mason/Getty Images

I don't like Tottenham Hotspur very much at all. But because I'm an adult, that doesn't mean I don't like Tottenham fans. In fact, the manager over at Cartilage Free Captain is an Internet Friend of mine and a super cool guy. Dustin Gerber Martin and I exchanged questions and answers, as well as a bit of #banter. His questions and my responses can be found here. My questions and his responses can be found right under this word.

Thomas: Do you see a realistic route to the Champions League places this year? Do you have any concerns about missing out on the Europa League or do you think that's pretty safe?

Dustin: We’re Tottenham. We ALWAYS have concerns about missing out on things. Before the start of the season the Carty-Free writing staff did our pre-season predictions and not one of us had Spurs finishing in a Champions League place. This was viewed as a rebuilding season: there’s enough talent on the squad to get a Europa slot, but nobody had reasonable expectations about Champions League. Now Spurs are within striking distance of fourth, and while we all hope that we can somehow nick ahead of you lot, Southampton, West Ham, Liverpool, and United, I don’t think there’s an expectation of such from most non-deluded Spurs fans.

The fun part of this season is that behind Chelsea and City it’s wide open, because all of the next five teams are about equally crap. Spurs could finish third, or we could finish sixth. Who knows?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And honestly, missing out on the Europa League might just be a blessing in disguise, because Europa is a drag, man. Hopefully some day you’ll get to experience it in all its glory.

T: On a scale of one to Me About Cesc Fabregas in 2011, how annoyed does it make you that there are already rumors about Harry Kane's next employer?

D: Nah, we’re not all that bothered by it. Harry Kane is 21 years old, is an academy kid, and has had about six months of football behind him where he’s shown he has the potential to be a legitimate superstar. On the market, he’s probably worth about £20-25m at the moment, and there’s literally no way in hell that Spurs cash in now on their English, young, English, home-grown, extremely talented, and English #9.

Did I mention he’s English? Because that’s key. Since the Modric saga, Spurs have pretty much held the line on selling their best players to league rivals and I'd expect that to continue. Harry Kane is happy at his club and is exponentially improving right now. If he continues on his current path he could well turn into one of the best strikers in Europe in a few years, and then, well, Hala Madrid. But realistically only way Harry Kane goes is if Madrid decides they want to spend £80m or more on him and he gets his head turned. I don’t see that happening for another 2-3 years, and if he wants to be the next Ledley King then it might never happen. TL;DR: talk to me again about this in 2018.

T: From the outside, over the last couple summers it seems like Spurs just buy in bulk without any consideration to squad balance. How true is that, actually? How do you feel about the squad as a whole?

D: On balance, this is probably fair, and especially when you consider the AVB years. Under AVB, it felt at times like in the transfer window Spurs were just holding down the handle of the "mediocre player" hopper at Whole Foods. For every Christian Eriksen we bought, we also got a Paulinho and a Capoue.

That feeling is changing since Pochettino took over. For one, Poche has a much greater emphasis on bringing through and developing youth players. Although Tim Sherwood was the one who gave Nabil Bentaleb and Harry Kane their first chances, Pochettino is the one who has nurtured them and turned them into players who are first on the team sheet. Tangental to that is the hiring of Paul Mitchell as Spurs’ chief scout, who, apart from having fantastic hair products, also is a whiz at using advanced metrics to find young and overlooked players to fit into Pochettino’s system. You could see some of that in Spurs’ January transfer window: Dele Alli is the kind of young talent that Poche loves and that could thrive at Tottenham in a couple of years.

As to the second part of your question, there are still some holes. On the whole, our midfield is god-awful, especially in the pivot. While our fullbacks are in decent, we could use another central defender or two, and Harry Kane could use a competent backup. But we’re getting there, and I expect some of these issues will be addressed in the summer.

T: Do y'all think you can beat Chelsea in the Capital One Cup final? Because we'd all really like it if Chelsea didn't win anything this year, somehow.

D: Well, we beat them once already. Unfortunately, that seems to have ticked them off pretty good. This is going to be like having a rematch with a hornet’s nest after you’ve kicked it. Related, it’s nice that the mutual hatred of Chelsea is something that Spurs and Arsenal supporters can bond over. We welcome your support in the League Cup final.

T: Has Mauricio Pochettino surpassed 'Arry in club lore yet? What are your thoughts on his performance after two-thirds of a season (or thereabouts)?

D: It’s taken most of this season to really get a handle on Pochettino’s methods, and for a long time it wasn’t clear just what precisely Poche was trying to do with this team. Part of that can be attributed to the players simply learning what he wanted them to do, and part of it can be attributed to Poche not quite having all the players that he wants for his system. And there will always be a small subset of Spurs fans that will never accept him and would like nothing less than to have Harry Redknapp back.

That said, since the new year Spurs seem to have come into their own a bit and have put in a few really nice performances. I’m also super, super excited about his propensity for promoting and encouraging young academy players. We have a bit of a golden generation coming out of our youth ranks right now and it’s really fantastic to have a manager who can develop that kind of young talent. Which I’m sure is something Arsenal fans can fully understand.

I’m still not 100% sold on Poche yet — his substitutions leave me a little cold and I’m still not sure he really knows what his best 11 is — but based on the results we’ve had thus far I don’t think you can remotely argue that he was a poor hire. He has, at the absolute bare minimum, earned the benefit of the doubt.

BONUS: Since Arsenal's been in N5 for over a century now, isn't it time to quit talking about the move? It was two world wars ago. We're all adults here, right?

D: Ok, fine, I’ll give you that one, but we’ll NEVER FORGET THE 1919 PROMOTION. The injustice still stings 96 years later, man.

AND: Who wins, and what's the score?

D: This match worries me, because this match ALWAYS worries me. But our home form has been great lately and with Sanchez out and a slightly gimpy Ozil, I’m going with 3-1 Spurs: goals by Kane and Eriksen, and a third that goes in off of Jan Vertonghen’s ass. Theo Walcott scores because of course he does.

Thanks, Dustin! And hey, if any of you go over to CFC over the next few days, be nice. Trolling over there will be tolerated about as much as that lot trolling over here.