Spurs’ transfer activity puts Arsenal in the shade

Posted by Miguel Delaney

Towards the end of Arsene Wenger’s Friday news conference, as the Arsenal manager made all sorts of arguments to mitigate his club’s problems in the transfer market, it was brought back to one simple question.

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By the end of business on Monday, does he think he will have a better team than Tottenham Hotspur?
"Yes, you know, but I don’t think about my squad like that," Wenger said. "I think... do we have a chance to fight for the Premier League or not. I don’t compare to Spurs, especially."

On Wednesday, Jan Vertonghen had no such problems drawing the comparison. In fact, he had done so before last season even ended.

"We thought we were the better team than Arsenal. They maybe had the experience of playing in the Champions League, but we were very disappointed."

Ahead of yet another north London derby that is tipped to definitively tilt the balance between the two sides, that 2012-13 top-four chase offers a rather layered backdrop. Because, with the way their summers have gone, you would think it was Tottenham that had qualified for the Champions League instead of Arsenal. Spurs have overcome the absence of both that elite competition’s cachet and a huge stadium to do superb business, and Wenger has allowed such advantages to fritter away.

Given the way the transfer market has emphasised and reflected the drastic differences between the clubs' approaches, it is perhaps fitting that this fixture comes on the eve of the window closing.

Wenger, of course, would dispute that Arsenal have any issues at all, saying: "I am completely happy with what we do and how we do things."

In fact, he again attempted to bring the discussion back to broader, vaguer themes.

On the window? "There’s no transfer market anymore where you can say, OK, this player is available. It just depends on the financial potential of the buyer."

On the pressure? "Look, we have players. There’s a big debate in England at the moment that the Premier League is an obstacle for the national team. We have been accused many times of that, but now we have players for the English national team and you push me to buy foreign players. So that cannot be right."

Finally, there was Arsenal’s suitability to "fight for the Premier League", as he put it himself: "Look last year, if you had seen Chelsea’s squad, would you have said they have a squad to fight for the Premier League? Yes. They finished two points ahead of us, and it’s in the last game it’s been decided. You let people talk, and you try to analyse what the quality of the game was. I just can say one thing: Since March, I have lost just one game."

Such statements are obviously true at face value, but much more complex when you go a little deeper. Quite simply, talk of Arsenal challenging for the title feels fanciful. For all Wenger repeatedly builds straw arguments such as not being able to buy better players than Jack Wilshere, too, he badly needs to bolster other areas -- some not even with world-class talents.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but it is this constant attempt to adhere to broader aims and philosophies, rather than deal with the specific realities of the situation, that has arguably caused a lot of Wenger’s problems. Many people inside and outside Arsenal have accused him of being out of touch with the modern requirements of the market, out of touch with values, out of touch with approaches.

That is clearly not the case with Spurs, who have a thoroughly modern structure, not least after the appointment of Franco Baldini as director of football. Similarly, Andre Villas-Boas went out and solved his squad’s most pressing issues.

"We all agree last year at the latter stages we were struggling with injuries," the Spurs manager said Thursday of his previous lack of depth.

Now? "It is a great squad we are putting together, great competition for places."

And great quantity in terms of style.

It is to Tottenham’s credit that, despite the sale of a player they often seemed utterly dependent on last season in Gareth Bale, they now appear to have a side better than at any point in 2012-13.

While Arsenal persevere with the same template, Tottenham now have a variety of different options and potential formations. The likes of Paulinho and Etienne Capoue offer a previously missing power, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela creativity, and Roberto Soldado goals. Even beyond that, Vlad Chiriches offers that mix of high line and passing platform from centre-half that Spurs lacked last season and that Villas-Boas especially favours.

These were all elements a confident Vertonghen pointed to.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen with Gareth, but I think we’re getting stronger than last year," he said. "We have more quality, so we have to compete for this fourth place. I think because the squad is getting bigger, we have more opportunities to play different tactics, and everything. We have way more power than we had last year, and we still have our pace. We can play different kind of games. We played Man U away with a lot of counter movement and at home, we want to make the game and I think we can do both now.

"I think the mood on the training ground is very good. I think everybody can feel it, especially because we won the first few games."

Wenger, however, pointed to a potential problem for Spurs over the next few games.

"I know all the players they have brought and we wait to see how they will integrate, how well they will do. It’s very difficult to predict that.

"In our job, there is a technical risk when you buy more than three players because you unbalance the stability of the squad. It is difficult when you bring so many players in to predict how they will do."

Certainly, it is eminently possible that his more settled side could expose the inevitable gaps in Tottenham’s integration Sunday. Arsenal's cohesion has already averted an early crisis this season, helping them to recover from the reverse against Aston Villa to win three successive games in emphatic fashion. Vertonghen admitted that he admired their spirit in such performances.

"I think the last three games they played, they did very well, so I think they have their confidence back. It will be two good teams competing," he said.

The point, however, is not who is better on the day -- it is who will be better at the end of the season.

The window may well indicate more about that than Sunday’s match.


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