EYE ON EPL

New powerhouse rising in North London

For decades, Tottenham Hotspur, with just two league titles, have played second fiddle to Arsenal, who have 13 championships, including three English Premier League crowns.

Not since 1995 have Spurs finished above their North London rivals. But that is set to change this season.

With five games to go, second-placed Tottenham are leading third-placed Arsenal by six points, with the Gunners having a game in hand.

But the two sides display contrasting form right now.

Spurs have the best defensive and scoring record so far this season, conceding just 25 goals while netting 60.

If nothing changes, sooner or later, the Gunners will drop out of the top four. For Spurs, the priority now is to keep this team intact as they have a core of players who can make them title contenders next season.

They even earned their first home victory over Manchester United in 15 seasons on Sunday with an emphatic 3-0 win, a performance which manager Mauricio Pochettino said was "perfect".

Bright young prospects including Eric Dier, 22, and Dele Alli, 20, are being paraded as the next generation of stars, which makes their football fast-paced, energetic and exciting to watch.


PHOTO: REUTERS

Perhaps it was the right timing that Pochettino joined in 2014 to inherit a good team. But the Argentinian has successfully taken a leaf out of his counterpart Arsene Wenger's book to groom young talents through their youth system.

In contrast, the Gunners look old and even a bit dull. Their English youth products have stuttered. Theo Walcott, 27, has fallen out of the starting XI, and Jack Wilshere, still only 24, is injury prone.

While the Gunners are consistently placed among the top four, it does not mean they have made any improvements in recent years.

The story of Arsenal has always been about them coming close to the title, but not being good enough to clinch it.

Time and time again, their fragile mental state has been exposed by more physical opponents.

Last Saturday in their 3-3 draw at West Ham, Andy Carroll exploited Arsenal's aerial weakness.

It will be good for Arsenal to bring in really physical players like Paris Saint-Germain's striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is strong and has a commanding presence inside the box, besides having world-class skills.

But if nothing changes, sooner or later, the Gunners will drop out of the top four.

For Spurs, the priority now is to keep this team intact as they have a core of players who can make them title contenders next season.

Pochettino will have a tough job holding on to exciting youngsters like Alli and Harry Kane. He just needs to look back at how Real Madrid swooped in to sign Gareth Bale three years ago.

But I do not think there will be an exodus at White Hart Lane, as players can look forward to Champions League football next year. And that is good news for Spurs fans, who have lived long in the shadows of Arsenal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'New powerhouse rising in North London'. Print Edition | Subscribe