Belfast Telegraph

Spurs aiming to hit the very top and win the league

Just finishing above fierce rivals Arsenal will not be enough for Pochettino's ambitious men

By Glenn Moore

Softly spoken, genial and relaxed, Mauricio Pochettino gave every impression of a man who had digested Tottenham's defeat at West Ham United and moved on.

Question after question at the club's Enfield HQ was batted away with a smile.

Then he was asked if finishing above Arsenal, who visit White Hart Lane today in one of the most significant north London derbies for years, would be an achievement in itself, and if it would be a good season if accomplished.

The smile disappeared, replaced with an expression that seemed one part bemused and three parts contemptuous.

"We don't want to compare with them," he said. "It's not a good way to motivate our players. Our motivation is to be ambitious and win every game. That is difficult but it is the motivation, not to be above Arsenal. For me it's important to finish well and try to be on the top."

Pochettino is right. It is time Spurs stopped defining themselves by their neighbours, whom they have not finished above in 20 years. So great is this obsession it is suspected to be the reason why the rebuilt White Hart Lane is being expanded to 61,000 - the Emirates holds 60,272.

There is another reason 61 is significant: 1961 is the last time Tottenham won the league. With the deaths in recent years of Peter Baker, Ron Henry and Dave Mackay there are more men alive who have walked on the moon than possess a championship medal won with Spurs.

In the intervening 55 years 13 different clubs have won the title, including Ipswich Town, Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Derby County. Most pertinently, Arsenal have done so six times.

Jimmy Greaves, Pat Jennings, Ossie Ardiles, Glenn Hoddle, Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne and Jurgen Klinsmann are among the great players who have tried and failed to lift the Lilywhites atop the pile.

Meanwhile, John Roberts, David Hillier and Gilles Grimandi have won championship medals with Arsenal.

Since 1961 Spurs have won cups, at home and abroad, but never even finished runners-up in the league, with their last credible title attempt falling away in the spring of 1985.

Now, an astonishing three decades on, they are contenders again, the bookies' favourites prior to the midweek slip-up.

Measured against Arsenal they are superior in a raft of departments. Spurs have scored more goals and conceded fewer, run further, sprinted more often, won more tackles and had more shots on target.

Crucially, they have also won three more points. Victory today would double that advantage. Would that wipe Arsenal out of the title race?

Pochettino said not, while Wenger said, in that way of his: "The most gifted mathematician will have problems working out how this Premier League works."

Perspective has not been a problem at Tottenham, and not just because their midweek loss seems a one-off.

Alongside Pochettino as he began his press conference was an eight-year-old fan, Luke Langton, a patient at Noah's Ark. This is a north London hospice-at-home service for youngsters with life-limiting and threatening illnesses. Spurs were launching a two-year partnership with the hospice helping to raise funds and awareness. In the circumstances a dropped point or three in east London seemed a minor irritant; even the north London derby took on a different hue.

At 12.45 this lunchtime, however, Luke, like all Spurs fans and Arsenal fans, will be absorbed. For the first time in decades Spurs have to deal with the expectation that has been Arsenal's burden for most of Wenger's reign.

Pochettino was dismissive of the theory that Arsenal's experience gave them the edge, but if the Gunners win the idea will gain currency.

The other doubt against Tottenham is whether they have the legs to finish the job.

Their youth will help, but they also have the Europa League to contend with. Pochettino's teams have a history of fading - as have those of his greatest managerial influence, Marcelo Bielsa.

So to a 90-minute contest with a century of history behind it and nine matches to follow. "Football is the present," said Pochettino. "You can't waste time thinking of the future." The same applies to the past.

For Pochettino victory today is not about finishing above Arsenal, but finishing above everyone.

Premier League fixtures (today, 3pm unless stated): Tottenham v Arsenal (12.45pm), Chelsea v Stoke, Everton v West Ham, Man City v Aston Villa, Newcastle v Bournemouth, Southampton v Sunderland, Swansea v Norwich, Watford v Leicester (5.30pm).

Tomorrow: Crystal Palace v Liverpool (1.30pm), West Brom v Man Utd (4pm).

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