Tottenham's identity indecision has led to their worst nightmares

From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - When Tottenham beat Arsenal 3-0 in May 2022 and caused the Gunners to crumble in the top-four race, the arrow charting their trajectory was pointing upwards.

They had become one of the most formidable teams in the country. A well-oiled machine led by Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski that looked capable of beating anyone. Landmark victories at Manchester City and in said derby showed a blueprint back to contention over the next couple of years.

The feeling in that race to the Champions League was that whoever secured its riches would be able to put their foot on the accelerator in their plans to reach the top again.

Both Spurs and Arsenal had respectable transfer windows, though the key for Gunners was they enjoyed a summer in which their first XI notably strengthened - Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and the return of William Saliba from loan were key additions.

Tottenham, as has been the case since sacking Mauricio Pochettino and putting all their chips in for a win-now situation, could not decide how they wanted to progress. Should they go large and get upgrades for a good-but-flawed starting lineup? Should they stick to habits of old and buy young and promising players? Should they scrounge the mid-table market for players ready to step up.

In the end, they picked an unhappy compromise, perhaps best surmised by Antonio Conte's insistence that Djed Spence was a 'club signing', not one of his. He has played 41 minutes this season despite Spurs' problems at right wing-back.

But that shouldn't have led to the scenario Spurs are in now. Conte's lack of coherent plan without one or both of Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur made them unwatchable more often than not, unable to play well for more than 45 minutes at a time. The decline of Golden Boot holder Son is as much down to tactical misuse as it is physical waning.

Arsenal have kicked on because they've followed through with a plan, a vision that everyone at the club can recognise from top to bottom. Down the other end of Seven Sisters Road, Tottenham have no idea whether their head coach will be around for much longer, whether their star striker and global icon is going to stay beyond the summer.

A sense of frustration towards Daniel Levy and owners ENIC has seeped back into the high banks of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. After all, they were the ones who have failed to deliver the conditions for their own win-now wishes.

All of these flammable ingredients combined to create a Spurs fan's worst nightmare - Arsenal moving eight points clear at the top with a comprehensive win in N17.

The unfortunate problem for Tottenham is this is now a project nearly doomed to fail. They could win an FA Cup but their long-term plan will almost certainly not be one with Conte co-leading it.

The plus side? There's a group of younger players capable of rebuilding around. Football changes very quickly. It's a very short list, though.

Source : 90min