When Unai Emery was relived of his duties and Mikel Arteta was given the monumental task of turning around his former club’s fortunes, many fans voiced their discontent.
“He seldom stands and watches. In fact, he always wants the ball, but he is a bit indisciplined (sic) and often goes where he pleases.”
That’s how Bill Nicholson described Paul Gascoigne in a scouting report for Tottenham over 20 years ago.
The report was reprinted in the match program for Spurs’ Europa League tie with Lazio on Thursday – a game contested by two teams the much loved former England international represented.
Long time Tottenham fans reading that description of a man they once cheered on at White Hart Lane might have felt some resonance with what they’d seen from Andre Villas Boas’ Spurs incarnation – a side that has suffered from a bit of tactical “indiscipline” of its own recently.
The start of the season at White Hart Lane has seen unfortunate errors cost points against Newcastle and West Brom, while a poor performance ended in deserved disappointment against Norwich.
A 3-1 win over Reading last weekend eased expectations and, but for a marginal offside call on Clint Dempsey in the first half against Tottenham, the Portuguese tactician would be reflecting on his second win with his new club.
Early days, but the work that needs to be done is indeed taking place.
On Wednesday morning at Tottenham’s stunning new training complex a few miles north of White Hart Lane, the first man out on the pitch for his team’s training session was Villas Boas.
The 34-year-old ready to work on and tweak his team’s system of play.
In this regard Villas Boas has learnt from his time at Chelsea where he only pulled back his high defensive line when it was too late to save his job in charge of a confused squad that was low on confidence.
Against a Lazio side that cherish possession and can break quickly when the sublime Brazilian midfielder Hernanes is on the ball, Villas Boas ensured his team never over committed when his players pressed high up the pitch.
It led to a tight and cautious game, but also another step forward as the Spurs’ players look to grasp the concepts they’re being asked to realise.
That this gradual turnaround in performances and results has begun will be appreciate by Spurs’ fans who have had to watch as fierce rivals Arsenal have grown into the new campaign.
Using a much more pragmatic approach than manager Arsene Wenger would have even been willing to consider not too long ago, the Gunners have been the most impressive of the three undefeated teams in the Premier League.
It’s is an adjustment that began about 12 months ago following the 8-2 humiliation by Manchester United.
Following that game Wenger made a concession on the dogged short passing approach he’d based his success at Arsenal on.
All of a sudden if a team pressed his side high up the pitch, they started to lance long balls forward.
Wenger’s thinking being it’s better for a side lacking in confidence and watched on by nervous fans to cede possession in the opposition half than near their own penalty area.
This change saved the Gunner’s season and has now transitioned even further into a direct team who look to play on the transition.
When the ball is won back, Wenger’s raft of technicians look to get the ball forward as quickly as possible so as to exploit the space left behind their opponents.
With only two goals conceded in their first five games, Arsenal are a much improved team defensively. Credit for this is rightly being placed at the feet of Steve Bould.
Wenger’s all-consuming role in charge of every facet of the Gunner’s set up requires people to fill in the details and Bould’s work with how Arsenal defend as a unit without the ball appears to be working.
Defender Thomas Vermaelen hailed Arsneal’s new assistant coach before the season had even started.
“Steve is really good to work with, especially for defenders as he has been a defender himself,” he said in an interview on the Arsenal website.
“He knows what it is all about and gives us a lot of tips. He works a lot on the shape of the team and that is very important, so I am very happy he came to work with the first team.
“He is very focused on details. A lot of players, because we are getting older, we know how to play. But he looks at details and the shape of your body and to be honest I am learning a lot from him.”
Despite what many commentators in the media will say, a result against Manchester City this weekend won’t make Arsenal title challengers – just as a loss won’t dash their hopes.
The Gunners are much further along in their development than their North London rivals, but both teams remain two of the most intriguing prospects in England this season.
Not least because like Gascoigne, both seldom stand and watch.