aAntonio Conte remembers the last derby in north London and he wasn’t even Tottenham coach at the time. “It was a difficult period for my team,” says Conte, and there is no doubt that Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat in late September was rock bottom. “Sure, at that moment, confidence waned.”
Pierre-Emile Hojberg shivering from memory. It wasn’t just the defeat but the way it happened. At times, during a nightmarish first half, it looked as if he was running the Spurs midfield on his own. Arsenal advanced, scoring three goals within 34 minutes. Their dominance was complete. Lead is irreplaceable.
“It didn’t look good and it hurt a lot,” Hogberg says. “It’s something you can’t accept as a player. What happened last time in the Emirates is absolutely taboo, and it’s absolutely not worth it. [of us]. “
For Tottenham, the derby is always The The game of the season, a point of reference, and it is often tempting to limit their progress from one to the next. Back in September, Tottenham had only made six matches in the Premier League season and the managerial tenure of Nuno Espírito Santo. But everyone knows. It’s over for him.
Nuno would still be limping, though not for long, only to be sacked at the end of October after a 3-0 loss at home to Manchester United. At this point, I enter briefly to Conte – in his words – “to try to improve the situation … the club did not ask me to go for a place in the Champions League or the Europa League”.
Tottenham came in eighth after losing five of their previous seven matches. Not good, says Conte, “only a crazy person can imagine that with three matches left we will be in the race for a place in the Champions League.”
But as Spurs, belatedly, prepare to welcome Arsenal at their stadium on Thursday night, it is exactly where they are. Conte’s league record reads: W14 D5 L6 Pts 47, and when moved across 38 games, he adds 71.4 points for the season. He motivated the team. And now the account comes in heavy confrontation on the exciting plot lines: revenge (as above), great importance to the future direction of both clubs and, frankly, liters of bad blood.
When Tottenham hosted this match for the last time, it was in December 2020, Jose Mourinho was the coach of the team, and the 2-0 win was at the top of the table. It looks like it’s old. There were no fans present due to the pandemic and there was no derby at the first stadium in July 2020, which Tottenham won 2-1.
It will be his first on the field in front of an audience, and if the atmosphere is promised to be electric, there is also the possibility that he will fall horribly for Spurs, adding to the tension.
Conte’s team knows that in all likelihood they must win if they are to battle for fourth place in the penultimate or final round of matches, and even then they will rely on a serve from elsewhere. But if Arsenal win, it will ensure the end of the Champions League at the expense of their neighbours. This was not what Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was built to witness.
The match was originally scheduled for January 16, but Arsenal managed to apply for a postponement as they faced a selection crisis, even though it was not related to the positive Covid cases. Spurs were furious and issued a prickly statement that expressed their feelings very clearly. When Conte thinks of the episode, he keeps using words like “weird” and “unfair.”
Conte admits it’s “right to play this kind of game with all the players available” and says what matters to him are the improvements he’s made since then, both tactically and physically. And the bigger picture, too. Winning the derby should be a means to a big goal, not an end in itself.
There is great competition [between Spurs and Arsenal]We know it well, the players know it well and we want to please our fans.” “But when I played other derbies, with Inter or Juventus, I always said that a derby is one game, or two, in one season and a big team has to win the derby, not Because it’s your opponent but because you get three points and get you closer to winning something important. We have to have our minds open for an important goal, to win the derby to be a way to get there.”
Conte can be proud of having led his team from a low starting point to contending for the top four spot, an award he describes as “like winning a title in another country”.
It’s become as much about a derby as few others, and Conte hopes it’s nothing like the latter. “I think and hope to see another kind of game because so many situations have changed,” Conte says. “We want to show that we are a good team and we can fight for the Champions League.”