Why Arsenal & Tottenham's Sunday Wins Were Huge, But Not Decisive


As far as drama, incident and sheer theatre go, it’s difficult to think of too many afternoons in Premier League history as rich as Sunday. It is also what has made the competition itself so rich.

The brilliant late wins of Tottenham Hotspur over Manchester City and Arsenal over Leicester City were the sort of afternoons on which so many Premier League broadcasting deals have been sold.

They are also supposed to be the sort of afternoons that win Premier Leagues - just not necessarily this Premier League.

The very unpredictability that has made the division so appealing this season also means matches like these may not have the significance they used to.

These were defining games, of course. It’s just likely that they weren’t as decisive as we’ve come to view such moments in the past.

Arsenal v Leicester City - Premier League : News Photo

So much of that is down to the fact that we're still in a post-Alex Ferguson era, altering perspectives in what is still a wider power vacuum.

The long-term dominance of the Scot’s Manchester United teams created a baseline of standards, leading to the point in the late 2000s when the eventual champions in a given season regularly reached 90 points.

Those high returns reflected the winning runs the top teams were capable of going on, and meant that title races had fewer turning points - but they did have very distinctive turning points.

Entire campaigns could be traced back to single moments of massive significance, when the remaining path of the season was set out. You obviously know all of the classic examples: Steve Bruce’s headers, Eric Cantona’s volley against Newcastle United, Marc Overmars’s winner at Old Trafford, Federico Macheda’s curling strike against Aston Villa.

Even though there was a long way to go in those seasons after those moments, the point was that the trajectory of the title races didn’t really change after they happened. There were a few more blips, sure, but never anything so blindingly transformative.

Newcastle v Man Utd : News Photo

This was the culture Ferguson created, this was the challenge he set. It was telling that, once Jose Mourinho arrived in 2004 and then won two titles with record points totals, the Scot actually rose to that challenge by finalising what was probably his finest ever United team - the Champions League-lifting 2006-09 side.

All of that is also why we still have a natural tendency to view goals like those of Christian Eriksen or Danny Welbeck with a sense of decisive finality, even though they are likely to be nothing of the sort.

No-one has yet managed to generate Ferguson’s relentlessness, and none of the top four look like doing so yet, for a number of reasons. Mourinho briefly gave the impression he might replace the Scot as the Premier League’s standard-setter last season, only to succumb to the type of drastic crisis that the United boss simply never encountered once he got to the top.

As a consequence, the current top level is so much lower than before.

It means high-drama moments like those from Sunday have a lower sense of significance.

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-SWANSEA : News Photo

It does feel like this season’s title race is still going to go through a series of mini-cycles, with all of the top four rising and falling at various points, rather than the larger cycle of the Ferguson era. It may yet see a hugely underwhelming City come back, even though they have only claimed one point from five games against the rest of the top four.

The positive is that means we’re probably going to have many more moments this season to rival Welbeck or Eriksen.

The offset is that they won’t have the same weight.

We could be waiting a long while for this season’s title race to become any clearer - although that is obviously a key part of the enriching drama.

 

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