Very few teams can boast of a home record as good as Tottenham Hotspur‘s. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have comfortably seen off Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United playing in their interim home, scoring 13 goals in those four matches and being breached on just three occasions.
It didn’t happen overnight but Pochettino has now turned Wembley into a fortress for Spurs. They’ve lost just two of the 20 games they’ve played under the arch in all competitions this season.
Marcos Alonso netted a double in a 2-1 win for champions Chelsea while West Ham United came from behind to knock Spurs out of the Carabao Cup. They’re the only two black marks at home this season for Spurs.
They’ve won 14 of those 20 matches giving them a win rate of 70 per cent. It’s not the sort of form many envisaged at the start of the season. During the 2016/17 season Spurs won just one game at Wembley – 3-1 over CSKA Moscow.
The 2-1 loss to Antonio Conte’s men at the start of the season was their eighth at Wembley in 11 attempts. The following week saw Pochettino’s men concede a late equaliser to Burnley meaning they’d won just one of their last 12 matches there.
Pochettino was quick to dismiss talk of a ‘Wembley curse’ but did admit playing there was like an away game. “Yes, it’s true that so far we’ve got better results away from home than at home,” he said. “We’ve struggled to play against teams like Burnley, West Bromwich or Swansea City.
“Yes, so far that is the reality. I think the feeling is much better when you play away from home than at Wembley. Because you feel that when you play at Wembley, you are playing away from home too sometimes. That is the reality.”
What changed for Spurs at Wembley?
Not a lot, really.
Last season, when playing at at Wembley, they averaged 59 per cent possession. This time around, over a larger sample size, it’s 60.9 per cent. They are, however, averaging four more shots per 90 minutes but when comparing stats there’s not much that stands out as an explanation as to why Spurs have been able to turn Wembley into their very own fortress.
The answer may be quite simply the fact Pochettino and his players are now more used to playing there. After all, with familiarity comes consistency.
Last season, some put their problems down to the size of the pitch, given that it’s five metres longer and two wider than the old White Hart Lane surface, making it one of the Premier League’s smallest with only Stoke’s tighter.
This no doubt had an impact on Pochettino’s pressing game. Not only is it more taxing on the players having to cover more ground, it takes time perfect the pressing triggers and traps. For starters, the players need different starting positions so they aren’t having to cover as much space in a short space of time. If they mistime a press then it exposes them on an even larger pitch.
Spurs play a high line in general but that’s even higher at Wembley. Each player is given a part of the pitch to defend and it becomes instinctive. Make that even bigger and lapses in judgement are inevitable.
It took time to find their rhythm but it’s now there for all to see. Spurs are comfortable at Wembley while those visiting are the ones struggling to adapt to the pitch.
Why Spurs should be wary of Arsenal
Spurs are on an 11-game unbeaten streak following on from their heavy loss to Manchester City in the middle of December. They’re the form team heading into the derby. Arsenal, on the other hand, have either been really good or really bad over recent weeks.
The Gunners have won just four of their last ten games in all competitions and have lost three during this run of games. Nottingham Forest knocked them out of the FA Cup with a famous 4-2 victory. Bournemouth stunned Arsène Wenger and his team to pick up all three points and Swansea put on a finishing clinic in a 3-1 win.
But Arsenal did beat Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, and they have scored ten goals in their last three Premier League matches. Everton, under Sam Allardyce, aren’t as leaky and since Roy Hodgson took over at Crystal Palace they’ve been fairly solid. Yet Arsenal blitzed both teams early on. It was relentless and not too dissimilar to the way Liverpool went after Spurs last weekend.
Pochettino’s side went into the break 1-0 down but it could have been much worse. Davinson Sánchez, who has impressed since his club-record move in the summer, looked like a boxer against the ropes for a spell in the first half at Anfield.
He’s by no means a weak link. Most defenders would crumble under such pressure. But it might be a similar experience for him this weekend if he gets the nod ahead of the returning Toby Alderweireld. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will all be on the prowl early on looking to capitalise on any shakiness in the Spurs backline.
There’s a lot at stake this weekend. Not just three points and pride. There’s an opportunity to make a statement. Arsenal can show they’re still in the mix for a Champions League place while Spurs are able to put some criticism often levelled at them to bed.
The match gives the home side the chance to complete an impressive quintuple of victories over some of the best teams in Europe. Furthermore, if they avoid defeat it means they’ve managed to navigate their way past Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in a little under a fortnight without a loss. A sure-fire way to hit back at those who doubt their mentality in the big games – a criticism often levelled at Pochettino and his players.
Will fortress Wembley fall during it’s first north London derby battle or can Pochettino see off yet another rival?