Tottenham: the Chelsea game is more important than the FA Cup semifinal
Ahead of Tottenham’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, RealSport look at the importance of the game for Mauricio Pochettino and his players.
Arsene Wenger has long insisted that finishing in the top four of the Premier League is equal to a trophy.
For many Arsenal fans, this quickly grew tiresome. There was an absence of actual silverware and success; qualification for the Champions League was constant but felt almost futile, given a string of underwhelming exits in the early knockout stages.
Now, though, they might be inclined to agree with Wenger. Last season, the Gunners finished outside the top four for the first time during the Frenchman’s tenure, and this season they are almost certain to do the same.
The club has been shrouded in negativity. There has been unrest and disillusionment and, by the time of a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Emirates earlier this month, apathy.
In theory, though, the last four years have been Arsenal’s most prosperous for some time. They have lifted the FA Cup three times, bringing to an end a prolonged trophy drought that had plagued Wenger and his players.
But in reality, those successes now feel inconsequential, insignificant even. Arsenal are in regression, and no amount of FA Cups has prevented their palpable decline.
‘Spurs need to win a trophy’
This brings us on to Tottenham. Though Mauricio Pochettino has overseen a period of enviable progression and development, and improved Spurs in almost every sense, there remains an assertion that Tottenham must win a trophy. It is tiresome and reductive but the narrative persists.
Inevitably, then, much of the focus is on their FA Cup semi-final meeting with Manchester United next month.
Should they be defeated, it would represent a seventh straight exit at this stage of the competition. They would again be labelled bottlers; no trophies for a decade and nothing to show from the Pochettino project.
This is, in part, a symptom of football’s inherent short-termism. It appears difficult for some to grasp the nature of Pochettino’s vision at Tottenham: this is a long-term project, and one which does not prioritise winning cup competitions, particularly at the cost of further progression.
Of course, Spurs would not baulk at the prospect of winning the FA Cup. And winning the competition this year could provide a significant psychological boost, evidence that they can overcome the final hurdle and have the required mental strength to do so.
A crucial trip to Chelsea
But what should be considered more important is this weekend’s Premier League game against Chelsea.
A win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday would all but secure Tottenham’s place in the top four with seven games remaining. A defeat would bring Chelsea, currently in fifth and five points behind their London rivals, back into contention.
The significance of this game cannot be overstated. Symbolically, a Spurs victory would represent a paradigm shift. They would be firmly established as the best team in London, a highly commendable achievement given their status only a few years ago.
It is vital, too, that they remain in the Champions League. Dropping out of Europe’s elite competition now would be a damaging blow, more so than failing to win the FA Cup.
Tottenham’s Last 16 tie against Juventus, though it ultimately ended in defeat, was a demonstration that they are capable of competing with the best, and one would imagine, if Pochettino’s public statements are to be believed, that we are still witnessing the nascent stages of this team’s development.
Win, win, win, win
“I’m not obsessing: win, win, win, win!” said Pochettino in February. “Of course, we want to win but to arrive to win we need to create a winning mentality around the players, around the team.
“For that, you need time. You never know if it’s one year, two year, five years. I only know we’re in a good way, waiting for the stadium. It’ll be amazing for us, for the fans, for the club, for everything. That will give us the facilities to work. Tottenham in the next few years will be one of the contenders to win trophies.”
For Pochettino’s vision to be realised, consistent qualification for the Champions League is imperative. On Sunday, however much he might insist the opposite, it is likely that the Argentine will be obsessing: win, win, win, win.
Is a top-four finish more important than an FA Cup trophy? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.