LONDON. — Momentum is a precious commodity at this stage of the English Premier League football season. Tottenham have it in the short term after overpowering Arsenal, and they will have it in the long term if they keep manager Antonio Conte.
First, the simple facts.
Spurs were worthy 3-0 winners on Thursday night, their own excellence aided by Arsenal banging clumsily on the self-destruct button, especially when defender Rob Holding fouled Son Heung-min when already on a yellow card and his team a goal down after 33 minutes.
Arsenal were frail and vulnerable. Spurs, as Conte instructs his teams, went in for the kill and this north London derby was all over when Son hammered in their third two minutes after half-time, adding to Harry Kane’s first-half double. The rest was a celebration, a procession in front of a record crowd of 62,027 in this magnificent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Every moment of Arsenal misery was relished. Spurs will hope there is more to come as the race for a place in next season’s Champions League reaches its climax.
Arsenal trooped off heads bowed at the final whistle. Manager Mikel Arteta was disconsolate, not to mention furious at referee Paul Tierney and his assistants – and yet the top-four prize is still in their hands if they beat Newcastle United and Everton.
Spurs, however, have that forward momentum as well as two eminently winnable games at home to Burnley then at relegated Norwich City. They have put themselves right in Arsenal’s rear-view mirror.
And, most significantly in the wider context, they also have Conte.
The Italian has transformed the mood and the team since succeeding sacked Nuno Espirito Santo in September. The Italian’s place is in the Champions League and the manner of his celebrations at the final whistle suggests he is convinced it can be achieved this season.
This was the first time Spurs have won three successive home league games against Arsenal since August 1961, and since Conte’s first Premier League game in charge only Manchester City (69) and Liverpool (64) have won more points. And – for all Jurgen Klopp’s professed dislike of their counter-attacking style – only those two teams have scored more league goals than Spurs’ 54.
Whether Spurs make the top four or not, chairman Daniel Levy must do all he can to support Conte because he is on to something special with this manager.
The Spurs fans have no doubts. Conte has them in the palm of his hands.
In the 83rd minute, the whole stadium, apart from the sparsely populated Arsenal section, rose in thunderous salute to Conte, who took in the acclaim before responding with applause of his own.
Levy cannot make the same mistake he made with the beloved Mauricio Pochettino, who took Spurs to the Champions League final in 2019 but was not given the backing he needed to move to the next level.
Conte is not a man to settle for second best. If he does not get it at Spurs there will be no shortage of takers elsewhere. He can detect a lack of ambition at a distance of several miles, which means Spurs must satisfy his requirements. Spurs are a potent combination of fierce discipline, tactical wisdom and a deadly attack led by Kane and Son. With a manager of Conte’s calibre at the controls, they are going places.
his is why the top four is so crucial, and Spurs performed under pressure here. They knew an Arsenal victory would mean their hopes were over but never gave the Gunners that chance. A place in the Champions League will also make Kane feel more at home in the longer term, especially as Manchester City have been removed from any future transfer equation after signing Erling Haaland.
Kane remains a towering figure at Spurs, his summer flirtation with a move forgiven by the fans who once more label him “one of our own”. He is already the all-time top scorer in games between Spurs and Arsenal with 13, and has now scored 41 goals in London derbies. Only Thierry Henry has more with 43.
This is now the time when the pressure kicks in and Spurs have applied it to Arsenal. The Gunners still control their own destiny, so all Spurs could do was attempt to put doubts in their minds.
Arsenal’s resolve will now be tested, although Spurs must also guard against one of the slip-ups their own fans often believe is never far away when they face Burnley and Norwich City. Arteta will be accentuating the positive once his fury has subsided. Under the driven perfectionist Conte, it is unlikely complacency will be a problem for Spurs.
Spurs have landed a big prize in Conte. Keep him happy and they may land more. –BBC Sport