04 January 2017

All hail Spurs, or why Arsenal ❤️ Tottenham!

At first blush, it seems like an embarrassing admission. After all, for the better part of a century, Arsenal have lorded it over Tottenham, whether it was who was admitted to the First Division in 1919 or the more-recent twenty years during which Arsenal have finished higher than their North London counterparts. It therefore does seem strange for Gooners to celebrate a Spuds victory—especially one that elevates those self-same Spuds above the Gunners. That's an ironic inversion if ever there was one. Still, it's an entirely positive result, one that Gooners have numerous reasons to feel good about. Let's get to those reasons, then...

First, of course, are the points. After fighting furiously to find a point at Dean Court, Arsenal were looking at the possibility of going into the FA Cup's third round proper trailing Chelsea by eleven points with 18 matches to play. That's not insurmountable by any means, but it's daunting, to say the least. With Chelsea shorn of any Champions League or Europa League commitments, it's all the more important to slow them down. We did our part, defeating them roundly in September, but they've gone on a tear ever since. The fact that Tottenham have for now surmounted us in the Prem is just that: for now.

They, after all, do still have to deal with a few Europa League entanglements after crashing out of the Champions League. Yes, they are for now a point above us in the Prem. That's a far-easier road to hoe than the eleven-point gap Chelsea might have otherwise enjoyed. Tottenham will now have to fight on in the Europa League while also striving to fight for the Prem title—which again works to Arsenal's advantage.

Next, to squad-strength and depth. I think we'd all three sides agree that Chelsea's squad has been performing to expectations under Conte. Theirs is perhaps the deepest if not the most-talented squad in the Prem, so it should come as no surprise that they've gone undefeated in their last thirteen Prem fixtures, matching but failing to surpass Arsenal's own record of fourteen consecutive Prem wins. So it goes. After a season of squalor under Mourinho, this Chelsea squad has been showing under Conte what it's capable of. For Pochettino to outmanage Antonio Conte in one match despite an inferior squad is no surprise; we at Arsenal have suffered the same lesson dating back to the Argentinian's time at Southampton. Whether Pochettino can sustain the same over the long term with a thinner squad is a larger question.Whether Conte can sustain the same beyond his honeymoon-period is another question worth pondering.

Much as I might hate to resort to such a dismal science, in the end, Tottenham's win works well for us. Chelsea were starting to look all but invincible (note the lower-case i). To quote the ancient Sanskrit Arthashastra,"the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Long story short, both Chelsea and Tottenham are, of course, enemies. In this case, Tottenham is for now our friend. This doesn't mean that we're quite to the levels of Isaiah 11:6, when wolves lie down with lambs.

It simply means that Tottenham's short-term success opens a door on our long-term success just a bit wider. It wouldn't be the first time that Tottenham shot themselves in the foot on our behalf. The larger question that looms, then, is whether we can take them up on their offer. If we can split the difference between those abysmal 70 minutes against Bournemouth and the ensuing 25, I must say that I like our odds. Put in other terms, we've just endured our worst spell of footballing—two losses, one win, and a draw, all on the road—and this is where we stand: one point behind our local rivals and eight behind our financial rivals. Both of them have enjoyed epic, almost-historic purple patches of late, yet they still have to peek over their shoulders at us.

I can live with that—for now.