In case you hadn’t heard, Tottenham Hotspur beat Arsenal at the weekend, with goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon ensuring a 2-1 victory that lifted the team back into third place and seven points clear of their neighbours. The result also stretched the team’s unbeaten run to twelve league matches, Gareth Bale’s scoring run to five games, and saw a highly welcome return to action for Jermain Defoe.
However one run did come to an end on Sunday, as Arsenal’s second half goal meant that for the first time since the Everton game in December, Spurs lost a second half of Premier League football. Prior to Sunday’s match, Spurs had improved their position in the second half of nine of their last eleven league games, with the 0-0 draws with QPR and Stoke the only games where they failed to do so.
In those matches, two draws and a win were picked up from losing positions at half time, and six draws were turned into wins. The run of recent late goals has highlighted the improved second half performances of the side, but looking at this entire stretch of games, Andre Villas-Boas has to take a huge amount of credit for what is a scarcely believable improvement on the side’s major weakness in the first few months of the season.
After the Everton debacle, the Portuguese manager spoke of how he had raised the intensity at the end of training sessions to try and improve the concentration of his players when they are tired. Villas-Boas has also been sure to rotate players, particularly in the back line, to ensure that they are not exhausted come the end of the season.
The results have been obvious; the two second half goals Spurs conceding in beating Arsenal and West Ham are the only goals they have let in in the second half since the Everton loss, a truly staggering record. Either chasing matches or seeing out winning positions, Spurs have looked the stronger side in the final ten minutes almost every time they have played, with the player’s fitness and motivation shining through.
This can only be seen as a testament to the work Andre Villas-Boas has done on the training ground, and indeed in the dressing room at half time during matches. This improvement also stands in contrast to the increasingly fragile and weary side Spurs became in the closing months of last season, and could be the decisive factor in their hunt for Champions League football.