Spurs were abject against Arsenal – unmotivated and underprepared. This marriage of convenience already looks on the verge of collapse.
“Whenever a new manager comes in, I guess there’s a level of excitement around the club,” said Harry Kane back in July, giving a little too much away with the ‘I guess’. He clearly was not remotely enthused and the appointment of a man who had ultimately stalled at Wolves did absolutely nothing to dilute his desire to leave Spurs. As we had written days earlier: ‘Nuno has failed upwards and Levy has f***ed it again’.
Santo was patently not even in the top five of Tottenham candidates but he was the only man left standing when the music stopped. It was not inevitable that it would be a disaster – three consecutive 1-0 wins hinted that this could be a marriage of convenience with negligible romance but mutual benefits – but it was inevitable that patience would be in incredibly short supply. If you appoint a manager without the enthusiasm or backing of the fans then those fans will demand change as soon as things go awry. And they went so, so, so awry at Arsenal.
The Gunners were brilliant in the first half – there are many, many words written about that brilliance in 16 Conclusions – but Tottenham were abject. They were lacking in every single department, from the measurables of tackles and completed passes to the unmeasurables of passion and the basic giving of sh*ts. These were schoolboy tactics played by old men passing their retirement playing walking football. No grit, no bite, no ideas. It’s a combination that utterly damns the manager and it already feels unlikely that Santo will still be in charge on Christmas Day.
Of course the blame does not lie entirely with the manager; it’s not his fault alone if players look utterly unmotivated and static in a north London derby. But the club cannot sack a whole team of players and it is Santo who will come under immense pressure, not least because a summer that promised a much-needed rebuild still left him picking an XI of players he had inherited. A collection of players broken by Jose Mourinho was never going to be fixed by a man with the same defensive philosophy but a vastly inferior trophy cabinet.
We will never know if Santo instructed the Tottenham players to spend the opening 20 minutes punting aimless long balls; we’re not sure if it is more or less damning if they came up with these tactics themselves. We presume Santo did not instruct them to stand like statues while Emile Smith Rowe scored Arsenal’s first or to be torn apart so devastatingly as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed their second and Bukayo Saka their third, but it damns him that this is exactly what happened. Spurs looked unmotivated and underprepared and the buck inevitably stops with the manager.
No manager of @SpursOfficial can survive this start can they? pic.twitter.com/jV75tJBjFj
— The Spurs Compendium (@SpursCompendium) September 26, 2021
“I don’t believe a team that was in the Champions League final two years ago should be in transition,” said Graeme Souness, but a team that was in the Champions League final two years ago should not be managed by Nuno Espirito Santo. You can argue that this is a failure of club rather than manager and a lack of player investment stretching back into Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure has laid the amateurish foundations for this crumbling edifice but Santo is the very visible and replaceable manifestation of this failure.
Kane ‘guessed’ there was a level of excitement around the club at the appointment of Santo in early July. By late September, nobody is even vaguely pretending anymore.