Why Ange Postecoglou shouldn't overreact to Tottenham fans' 'Are you watching Arsenal?' celebrations in loss



It was a once in a generation night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Premier League crown was up for grabs and Spurs could be its kingmakers. Tottenham, with something meaningful to say about the title race in May? No wonder things got strange. And little was stranger than Ange Postecoglou’s post-match press conference. 

Tottenham may have been defeated, their hopes of a top four finish ended with a 2-0 loss, but his players had given Manchester City a real run for their money with a diligent display that did not lack in fighting spirit. Postecoglou acknowledged as much but his assessment of where Spurs stand at the end of his first season in charge was altogether more morose than anyone might have expected.

“I think the last 48 hours has revealed to me that the foundations are fairly fragile,” he said. Naturally when a manager delivers such a stinging critique of the “outside [and] inside” of his club questions about the tactical adjustments he had made, the impressive first half of Rodrigo Bentancur or even how different things might have been if Heung-min Son did what Heung-min Son usually does, become secondary.

Postecoglou never quite expanded on what exactly he had seen in the past two days that had him so concerned about the state of Tottenham — ” you can make your own assessments of what’s happened” — but it does not require much parsing out. Arsenal’s win over Manchester United on Sunday had thrust Spurs supporters into a waking nightmare. Aston Villa’s failure to overcome Liverpool the following day hadn’t snapped them out of it.

The state of the table meant that at least some portion of Spurs supporters wanted little more than a shellacking for their side, anything for a dose of schadenfreude at Arsenal’s expense. In the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the picture was a little more complicated. After all, when you’re paying some of the highest ticket prices in England, or travelled halfway across the world to see your team in action there is only so much pleasure to be gained from your team’s suffering.

The ground was hardly the cauldron of energy it might be on north London derby day, but there wasn’t much to get supporters on their feet anyway. The first-half breakaways that nearly were roused a crowd that was at its loudest chanting against Arsenal, but they may also have been lulled by an impressively conservative display from their team. Spurs completed 17 sequences of nine or more passes in the first half, a tally they have only bettered in four Premier League matches this season. Their direct speed — the distance they advanced the ball towards goal per second — was the lowest it has been in a match under Postecoglou. Tottenham were mostly holding firm, positioning themselves as well as could be expected to strike out for the win late on.

That opportunity didn’t come, Erling Haaland’s tap in setting City on course. That was when the strange things happened, at least after a moment. Once it became apparent that that might be it as far as Tottenham’s season goes the chants of “are you watching Arsenal?” were struck up with vigor. Some supporters went further. There were a smattering of Poznans. In the seats in front of the press box two fans dressed in sky blue away shirts seemed to be taking this shot across the Gunners’ bows a little too well. Those around them ensured that, with the help of stewards, they were moved out of the ground.

Clearly, instances like that hit Postecoglou in his chest. From his dugout he was seen raging at one supporter, seemingly an individual who had made clear his desire to see Spurs tank. He was no less baffled after 90 minutes of mixed feelings from his supporters than he had been before the game happened. “It’s been an interesting exercise,” he said, barely suppressing what seemed to be a deep antipathy towards those Tottenham fans who couldn’t get on the ‘Tottenham win a match’ bandwagon.

Almost as the words were coming out of his mouth you could see them being jammed into that familiar narrative about this club. The history of the Tottenham, as Giorgio Chiellini might put it. A team for whom the game isn’t really about the glory anymore. A team living down to its (maybe unfair) reputation of being slight, lacking substance, a small club in a big club’s stadium.

Postecoglou will know better than anyone whether the social media landscape was reflected at Hotspur Way on Monday and Tuesday. He also appreciates — as Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta do — that a project to turn Tottenham into winners requires the propulsive force of supporters who demand nothing less. “I can’t dictate what people do,” he said. “They’re allowed to express themselves any way they want. But yeah, when we’ve got late winners in games it’s because the crowd’s helped us.”

Perhaps, however, this one night sits outside the Tottenham story. The conflicted feelings of the fanbase, even those rooting for loss, are natural. The prize on offer is hardly the sort that fans would bite your hand off for either. Another season of Champions League revenue, Champions League ticket prices and not having much of a chance of winning the Champions League (though Borussia Dortmund’s dart to Wembley is a reminder that a middling side can often break out from the pack). 

Spurs supporters have had quite enough of not winning trophies without handing them to the other lot down the Seven Sisters’ Road. They’ve had years enough of “we won the league at White Hart Lane” without the sense of being unwilling accomplices to Arsenal glory. If their season offers nothing to celebrate, well at least neither does their rival’s.

Of course Postecoglou and his players, who betrayed no sign of wanting to spoil things for Arsenal, couldn’t see that. They would do well, however, to not see this freak occasion as more than it was.





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