Spurs finish emotional week on high by ending Arsenal's streak
By Daniel Rubens
The last 10 days have been a roller coaster of emotional swings for Tottenham Hotspur and their fans. But one of the most draining stretches in recent club history ended on a major positive note Sunday.
A week-and-a-half run in which Spurs experienced a devastating tragedy, a heartbreaking Cup loss to the team they just can’t catch, and a memorably hard-fought away win came to a conclusion with a meaningful 2-0 North London Derby win over rivals Arsenal on Sunday. It was officially confirmed on Thursday that this will be the final season at the current version of White Hart Lane, which meant that Sunday’s game would be the last derby at the venerable old ground. Spurs sent the Lane off in style, all but confirming their place in next season’s Champions League while securing a finish above Arsenal in the Premier League table for the first time in two decades.
It’s been a difficult recent stretch for Spurs outside of the Premier League. Last Thursday, April 20, Spurs’ U-23 coach, Ugo Ehiogu, collapsed on the training pitch, and the former England international passed away the following day. Then, Spurs gave Chelsea their best shot in an FA Cup semifinal and came up short in a 4-2 defeat. On Wednesday, a day after the Blues won to re-extend their lead to seven points atop the PL table, Spurs had to grind out a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace thanks to a late Christian Eriksen long-range blast. The announcement that Tottenham will play all of their home games at Wembley next season only further added to the recent drama that’s enveloped the club as it has continued to push Chelsea for what would be a first league title in 55 years.
Even if completing their brilliant campaign with a trophy seems highly unlikely at this point — Spurs trail the Blues by four points with four games to play — the way they dispatched of their most hated rivals Sunday only punctuates just how exceptional a season this has been for Spurs. They’ve been arguably the best team in the league in recent weeks, and by beating the Gunners for their ninth straight league victory, Tottenham remained the one team that can honestly say that they’ve pushed Chelsea with everything they have this season.
On Sunday, at a boisterous White Hart Lane, Spurs were the better side by a longshot for the vast majority of the contest, but there were still some nervous moments; after all, this is Tottenham Hotspur we’re talking about. Spurs should have been at least two goals up at halftime after first Dele Alli and then Eriksen each missed golden chances in front of a gaping Arsenal goal. Instead, the Gunners put forth a push at the end of the first half and took the momentum into the locker room.
However, on the other side of the break, Spurs came out with the vigor and intensity that has defined the club under Mauricio Pochettino. They were physical, confident, incisive, and — most of all — solid. Alli followed up the rebound of an Eriksen shot that was saved by Cech, reacting quickest to the loose ball to put Spurs ahead in the 55th minute. Less than two minutes later, Victor Wanyama — Spurs’ man of the match after an utterly dominant display in the midfield — pressured an Arsenal player into giving the ball away and fed it to Harry Kane, who was brought down in the box for a penalty which he converted into the bottom corner. Kane went down a touch easily, but there was certain contact from Gabriel, and the second goal was a deserved one for Spurs.
From there, they cruised to the victory without too much trouble. Tottenham created the far more dangerous chances over the remainder of the contest, and even when Arsenal threatened, they seemed unable to shoot the ball anywhere other than straight at Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal. It was a listless Arsenal performance, and the lackluster nature of their showing was all the more evident when compared with Spurs’ all-action performance.
For Tottenham, this was one of the most important games in the Pochettino era. No, they aren’t likely to win the title. But after the way last season ended with a whimper, Spurs need to finish this year as strong as possible. They’ve shown no real signs of slipping, and the all-around effort level they put in Sunday was indicative of that. Add in the extra emotion of not just a North London Derby, but the last one at White Hart Lane in the second-to-last game at a ground that means so much to Spurs fans, and the club’s supporters couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Spurs still need to finish out the year, and there will be hiccups next season as they spend a year playing away from North London. Regardless, over the past two months, Tottenham have showed the character in their squad that will allow them to keep challenging at the top of the Premier League. Spurs’ future is bright, but Sunday was about celebrating the past and moving on from it. On a day that meant everything to one of England’s most historic clubs, the Spurs players delivered a performance to match. The most any fan can ask of their team’s players is that they show passion and desire and prove that the club means something to them; Spurs are the example of that in England at the moment, and they once again showed why on Sunday.