Gareth Bale’s absence is asking serious questions of Spurs’ ability to stay ahead of the chasing pack
Let the ‘one-man team’ argument begin. Today’s tense draw against Everton will have done little to reassure Spurs fans that their side is less fragile than the ankles of their top scorer.
Only a month ago, the mood around White Hart Lane was very different. Tottenham’s thrilling victory over Arsenal on 3 March featured devastating performances from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon which turned the spotlight on the defensive frailties of their North London rivals. The vulnerability of Arsenal’s centre-halves Per Mertersacker and Thomas Vermaelen were repeatedly exposed by the pair’s pace and finishing and Spurs found themselves seven points clear in the race for qualification.
What a difference a month can make. Since then Spurs have taken only four points from a possible 12. The seven point gap has been reduced to two and Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all have a game in hand. Since the win over Arsenal, defeats to Liverpool and Fulham and the injuries to three of their most productive players will have the alarm bells ringing for Andre Villas-Boas.
Bale has 17 goals this season, two behind Robin van Persie and five behind the league-leading Luis Suarez. Even the injured Jermain Defoe is not to be found within the league’s top ten goalscorers. Emmanuel Adebayor has struggled for form this season and Tottenham will hope that his first-minute goal will spark something of a rebirth for the Togolese. Despite the excellent form of centre-halves Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen they cannot provide the goals that Spurs will need to keep Arsenal and Everton at arms length.
Before the game Villas-Boas had stressed the need for the rest of his squad to step out of Bale’s shadow. “We have had Bale’s absence before at different moments of the season and we have had people stepping up,” he said. “I think it is their moment to shine. We have players like Sigurdsson who has come in and is back to his goalscoring form. He is at a very good level.”
In the event it was Sigurdsson who did step up, albeit in the nick of time. His equalizer with barely two minutes remaining in the game saved Spurs from a second home defeat in three Premiership games. For the neutral, today’s results set the stage for thrilling run-in for Champions League qualification but for Tottenham, yet to face Manchester City at home and travel away to Chelsea, it will be an anxious few weeks.
Other than the lack of goalscoring Spurs face without their injured trio, it is the aggression of Gareth Bale that Tottenham miss. The attention that the Welshman demands from opposing teams has created the space that Lennon and Defoe need to be at their most effective. The three-pronged attack that Spurs are now missing will need to be filled.
“Everything shifts very quickly in the Premier League but we have been in this position before and you have to live with the pressure,” said Villas-Boas after the game. With Chelsea’s victory over Sunderland Spurs are now in fourth place and the manager knows he will need more than last-gasp equalizers from his players if Spurs are to avoid the disappointment of Europa League qualification.