Neal Thurman

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Are Spurs the new Arsenal?

Saturday, July 15, 2017


It was quite a season for the Spurs-supporting section of North London.  For the first time since Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal, Spurs finished ahead of their great rivals.  Arsenal supporters were forced to cancel St. Totteringham's Day and, worse than that, it looks like the momentum is all going in the right direction for Spurs and the wrong direction for Arsenal.  

 

At Spurs, they have a new stadium a season away from coming online and opening up additional match day revenue in terms of tickets sold and luxury boxes and, presumably, more potential sources of revenue along the lines of NFL games, concerts, and other events.  They have a rising star at manager and a roster filled with players either in their primes or still coming into their primes.  There's a lot to like.

 

At Arsenal, the supporters generally want their manager out and, given his age, it's only a matter of time until there is a transition at manager.  The two biggest names in the squad - Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil - have been heavily linked with moves away from the Emirates in search of a more competitive environment.  Arsenal won't have Champions League football this season and face a difficult challenge returning given the strength of Chelsea, City, Spurs, United, and Liverpool.  There's a lot to get worried about. 

 

As bleak as things might look, Arsenal supporters can take hope in that lingering feeling of deja vu that they might have when looking at the situation at White Hart Lane.  For those who are old enough to recall, Arsenal were in a similar spot a little over ten years ago.  The Invincible era Gunners can check nearly all the same boxes as Spurs are checking now, along with a couple of others that, ultimately led to their step back.  In 2003-2004, Arsenal featured a similarly star-studded roster.  Arsenal of that era could match Spurs 2016-17 group of Kane, Alli, Eriksen, Son, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose, Walker, and Lloris with Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Ljungberg, Vieira, Wiltord, Cole, Campbell, and Toure with Cesc Fabregas just having arrived at the club from La Masia.  The Spurs group is certainly younger up front but otherwise, the comparisons are reasonable.  

 

Where Spurs supporters should be worried is the similarity between Daniel Levy and Arsene Wenger as executives in charge of the transfer market.  One of the big complaints about the Invincibles era Wenger is that he couldn't or wouldn't do what it took in terms of transfer market ambition and wages to keep stars like Henry and later Fabregas and Van Persie at the Emirates after the move of stadiums.  Don't underestimate the influence of the move to the Emirates in this equation.  Wenger's excuse for not kicking on and spending big as the squad turned over from Henry/Bergkamp/Pires/Ljungberg/Vieira to the next generation was the financial constraints of the stadium deal but from what we know about Wenger it's hard to ignore the possibility that he was also just staying true to who he is as a manager - someone who doesn't buy into the necessity to make the massive splash in the transfer market or pay record-setting wages to win.

 

For me, this is where Spurs supporters should be worried.  Based on what we can observe from afar of Daniel Levy, he and Arsene Wenger are kindred spirits in terms of economic conservatism.  He is a tough negotiator when other clubs come for his players which is a great characteristic but he also seems to share Wenger's aversion to buying finished articles at the top of the market.  He has had some success buying or developing the "next big thing" in guys like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Eric Dier and buying relatively modest veterans like Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Lloris, and Wanyama.  

 

That success is a double-edged sword as we saw when Arsene Wenger assumed that he could continue to hit on modest targets and developing kids.  When Adebayor wasn't quite at Henry's level, when no one came close to Vieira's level, when Reyes wasn't a Pires or a Ljungberg things fell off.  Harry Kane seems bought in to staying at Spurs for the long term which is a great place to start but with Kyle Walker leaving this week and Dele Alli seemingly less committed to Spurs for the long term there is going to be a need for Daniel Levy to show that he can either change and start spending bigger on transfers and wages or face the real possibility that the replacement for Walker is a true replacement rather than seeing a similar drop-off that Arsenal saw when Ashley Cole left for Chelsea and was replaced by Gael Clichy who was good but not as good as Cole.

 

By no means am I predicting some sort of massive crash at Spurs and the financial situation in the Premier League with TV rights money means that the financial environment that Spurs are making their stadium move under is better than when Arsenal made their move.  That said, it is still necessary that Daniel Levy change his stripes somewhat if Spurs are really going to challenge more stable Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City as well as Arsenal and Liverpool for Champions League football.  The big misses on Vincent Janssen, Clinton N'Jie, and Moussa Sissoko didn't hurt because they were brought in as reserves but if there are similar misses with the Walker replacement, with Alli's eventual replacement, with Dier's potential replacement, with, well, you get the idea.  I have no doubt that Levy will get top dollar for premium outbound players of the type mentioned above.  What we don't have as much proof of is his willingness to take big money and attract the kind of talent that he'll need to stay in Champions League in the current, more competitive top six environment. 



Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.
Email :Neal Thurman





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