It will probably prove to be a false dawn. It was when they did the same to Chelsea at the same stage of the League Cup in 1999 (they didn’t even manage to win the final that year). However, Spurs supporters might be allowed a moment or two to wallow in their own crapulence after a 5-1 victory over Arsenal last night which booked them their first visit to the new Wembley stadium and really, seriously called into question the strength in depth that Arsene Wenger has (or, rather, doesn’t have) at his disposal.
I noted on here a couple of weeks ago what a crucial match this would be for Tottenham Hotspur FC. Spurs have some sort of psychological block when it comes to playing the big clubs which has been enormously damaging when it has come to the club taking that critical Great Leap Forward towards challenging seriously for a Champions League place. You can count their league victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United over the last ten years on the fingers of one hand. This morning, though, Spurs fans might just be waking up with the belief that Juande Ramos has got it in him to take their club to the next level.
It wasn’t merely the 5-1 scoreline, but the performance itself. This wasn’t Spurs vs Arsenal Youth. Arsene Wenger simply hasn’t got the excuse that he put out his weakest possible team. This was an Arsenal team featuring a number of established players, but their performance as a team coupled with a confident, assertive Spurs performance made them look like youth team players. Jermaine Jenas, who scored the first goal and forced the second out of Nicholas Bendtner with a tremendous free kick, put in his best performance yet in a Spurs shirt (leading one to believe that Ramos could succeed at something critical for Spurs, considering their transfer policy over the last three or four years or so – getting players to actually fulfil their potential). In true Spurs tradition, there was a heart in mouth moment just before half-time, when Dimitar Berbatov was put through on goal and hit the outside of the post. It was typical Spurs that, two goals up and completely out-playing the opposition, one’s mind should turn to the inevitable comeback at such a point.
The moment that finally settled the nerves came three minutes into the second half, when Keane added the third goal. It was at this moment that one could finally start to relax a little. This Arsenal team, playing this badly were not going to be able to get three goals back if they played all night and into this morning. There was still time for a brief chest-tightening moment when Adeabyor pulled one back at 4-0, but Malbranque’s last-gasp fifth goal was nothing less than Tottenham deserved on the night, and over the two legs. We can now await with interest the result of tonight’s other semi-final between Everton and Chelsea, and with the scores tied at 1-1 after the first leg, I wouldn’t bet against Everton getting a win to take themselves to Wembley too.
As ever, though, it is critically important to sound a note of caution. After all, Spurs are the undisputed kings of the false dawn. As recently as last year, Spurs were 3-1 up at Stamford Bridge in an FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea with Jermaine Defoe through on goal against Petr Cech. He missed, the match ended up 3-3 and Chelsea won the replay at White Hart Lane. Equally significantly, Spurs beat Chelsea 5-1 in a League Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane in 2001, but lost 6-1 at home to them in the league shortly afterwards, and went on to lose the final against Blackburn Rovers. My mind, however, automatically drifts to Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch”, and the League Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Spurs in 1987. Spurs were 2-0 up on aggregate when Arsenal’s travelling support suddenly and unexpectedly got behind their team, being rewarded with a late, late winning goal from David Rocastle to send them to Wembley for the first time since 1979. Hornby credits it as being one of the most crucial results in the history of Arsenal Football Club – it swept the weight of expectation that had crushed all Arsenal teams since the 1971 double-winning team and instilled the self-belief that would lead them to champsionship victories in 1989 and 1991. It’s probably too much, in this day and age, to hope for the same thing to happen with Spurs. However, the morning after the match, it feels like a result of equal significance. All they have to do now is go to Old Trafford at the weekend and knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup.