Andre Villas-Boas has revealed that his Tottenham players are driven this season by the memory of their spring collapse last year.
Spurs had a 10-point lead over Arsenal last February but blew it, losing 5-2 at the Emirates, finishing fourth and missing out on Champions League football because of Chelsea’s unlikely triumph in the competition. But Spurs went third on Monday night and can extend their lead over fifth-placed Arsenal to seven points with victory in the North London derby tomorrow afternoon.
“It is also down to what they have suffered in the past and what they want to achieve in the future,” said Villas-Boas yesterday, explaining the emotional celebrations after the 3-2 win at West Ham United on Monday.
“It’s never easy when they finish in the position that they did, qualifying for the Champions League in fourth spot and seeing it taken away from them because it’s the rules. It’s difficult for them because of the distance they had in the beginning. Everybody learns from experience. The Spurs players who felt that in their skin definitely take it as an example.”
Spurs’ run to third has been inspired by Gareth Bale, who has scored eight of their last 10 goals, almost all of them excellent and crucial strikes. Such was the club’s fine form last month that Villas-Boas was announced Premier League Manager of the Month and Bale named Player of the Month for February yesterday.
Arsenal could be said to lack a main goalscorer but Wenger was not envious of Spurs, saying he would rather have a team with evenly shared scoring.
“At the moment I feel we can score from many positions and I prefer that, personally,” Wenger insisted. “You will tell me, ideally you want both. But we have many players who can score. Walcott can score, Giroud can score, Cazorla can score, I think Wilshere will score as well, so we have many players – Podolski can score. We have many players.”
Robin van Persie scored 30 of Arsenal’s 74 Premier League goals last season and Wenger said he longer had to worry about that dependency. “I think we have scored more goals than last year and last year our efficiency was always depending on Van Persie,” he said. “I always worried about the day Van Persie gets injured.”
Villas-Boas, though, shrugged off any suggestion that he was managing a “one-man team”, saying that it was natural for good teams to rely on good players. “I can do nothing about it, it makes no difference to me,” he said. “If you look at Messi, he has scored 91 goals [last year]. If you take that away, you will see where Barcelona finish in the league.”
The Tottenham manager was delighted with how Bale has flourished since moving from the left wing to a central attacking position.
“Fortunately for us we were able to discover this form that he has playing through the middle. In the beginning of the season we tested it and he had never played before as a striker and he managed to adapt to that and it is a credit to the player and his talent as in one month he has been able to change from one position to perform at this level.”
Villas-Boas also identifies a change in his own performance. A year ago on Monday he was sacked by Chelsea, but with Spurs doing so well he was asked yesterday if he had improved since then. “Myself, a lot, I think a lot; the experience has served me well,” he said. “You always learn from your mistakes and you try to improve on those mistakes. Your man-management, your preparation for the game and your training sessions, everything is experience.”
If Arsenal, who will miss the injured Bacary Sagna, win tomorrow they will move to just one point behind Tottenham with 10 games left and Wenger is relishing the opportunity to recreate last season’s late surge. “The game on Sunday will have a psychological importance for the rest of the season, of course,” he said. “The way we will play on Sunday will have a big impact on the rest of the season.”