Mauricio Pochettino inches closer to first trophy with Tottenham after comfortable win against Arsenal
Mauricio Pochettino has inched closer to winning his first trophy with Tottenham Hotspur with a comfortably victory against rivals Arsenal.
For a competition that has often seen second strings played by the top Premier League clubs (and even the not-so-top Premier League clubs) all the way up until the final, there were two sides out at the Emirates that, bar a few omissions, were quite clearly a sign that their managers were going for it.
Perhaps it was the added edge of a north London derby, which the match very much had the feel of from start to finish. Perhaps it was Pochettino aware that all eyes were on him — particularly those in the red half of Manchester. Perhaps clubs, even those competing in Europe, are realising that the League Cup is worth playing for. Perhaps a combination of all three.
Harry Kane was absent from Tottenham’s starting XI and was only introduced in the second half to play his first League Cup game in three years and three months, the last time a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in September 2015. The striker began the night on the bench, citing a cold. You sense it might’ve been different had this been a Champions League quarter-final. Or even an FA Cup match at this stage. But the League Cup has, in recent years, a tendency to make players feel a little under the weather, and come over a bit nasally.
Pochettino desperate for silverware
Bar Kane, however, and goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, Tottenham’s starting line-up indicated how much Pochettino wants to win a trophy, in what could be the remainder of his final season at the club. Jose Mourinho’s departure from Manchester United — who want the Argentinian to replace him at the end of season — prompted debate about what constitutes success in the modern game, with arguments for both sides that it is development and attractive football, aka Pochettino and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, or merely the old metric: trophies. If Pochettino was to leave next summer, as United wish, he would still love to do so with a medal for his efforts, rather than have it always held against him that he had won nothing in his time there.
In the end it was Tottenham’s second/third choice goalkeeper (Gazzaniga seems to be usurping Michel Vorm as Hugo Lloris’s understudy) who made the most telling contributions, bar the goalscorers. For both goals Arsenal were caught out by Gazzaniga’s long balls straight up to half-way, each time it only requiring one more ball over the top for Arsenal to be breached.
A long ball up to halfway ended up at Dele Alli’s feet, and the midfielder pinged a ball over Arsenal’s back line for Heng-min Son to finish for the 21st-minute opener. By then, Gazzaniga had already kept out Henrikh Mkhitaryan when a one-two with Aaron Ramsey allowed the Armenian through on Tottenham’s goal, and his fingertips to push Ramsey’s angled shot onto the post, just before half-time, was even better.
It was a very similar move on the hour which led to Tottenham’s second. Gazzaniga up to Kane, who controlled well with his chest then pinged a ball over Arsenal’s defence again, this time for Alli to run on and clip the ball over Petr Cech with the sort of audacious, cheeky finish which makes it impossible not to enjoy watching him play.
And he is not afraid to give it some: flicking a 2-0 with his fingers at Arsenal supporters when he was struck on the head with a bottle thrown from Arsenal's stands — an inflammatory act Kane did his best to douse in calm. Right-back Kieran Trippier also joined in a little later, cupping an ear at Arsenal’s supporters during a break in play, a confrontation which Pochettino did well to subdue by standing in front of Trippier to discuss tactics.
With a place in the semi-finals up for grabs, Arsenal manager Unai Emery’s starting line-up was also indicative of a man who had spied the opportunity for silverware in his first season in charge, and equally as indicative of Emery’s view of Mesut Ozil.
Has this game marked the end for the German forward? Ozil was played alongside ‘the kids’ against Qarabag in the Europa League, benched against Southampton and completely dropped from the squad to play Spurs. This downward spiral coming in the month after Emery said he had left Ozil as an unused sub against Bournemouth because he was not physically up for the fight.
Last night, it was tactical reasons, Emery said, although he did not elaborate to explain that — reading between the lines — they are the tactics he is implementing to make absolutely clear to everyone that Arsenal would happily offload a £300,000-per-week player who doesn’t have the minerals.
When Mkhitaryan was hooked at half-time, Ozil should’ve been the perfect replacement at a goal down, but Laurent Koscielny was introduced instead so that Emery could move to a back three.
If anything, though, it gave Spurs more of a hold in the game before Alli scored the second — as their fingertips grasped agonisingly closer to something shiny and silver.
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