It might be time for Tottenham to consider whether Antonio Conte is really worth a new contract

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For the better part of 15 months, the big question for Tottenham has been whether Antonio Conte will be content to stick around for the long haul.

After a sweet defeat in the North London derby, it might be time to start wondering if Conte is really doing enough to earn a standout new contract.

Arsenal moved eight points clear at the top of the table with a win and performance that confirmed what has long been evident: in the eight months since Mikel Arteta’s side were beaten 3- 0 by Spurs here in May, they’ve taken it to another level. to their rivals.

Arsenal are now playing as the champions elect while Spurs have regressed from their impressive second half to last season and, despite all their insistence that their top four finish was ‘a miracle’ and that the club are years away from competing for trophies, Conte must accept a considerable share of the blame.

Trailing 2-0 on a disastrous own goal from Hugo Lloris and superb strike from Martin Odegaard, Spurs produced their usual second-half rally and Arsenal had to thank Aaron Ramsdale for a series of fine saves, which preserved their clean sheet and secured a first away winner. in this game since 2014 – when Arteta starred in the Gunners’ win at White Hart Lane.

By the time Spurs finally awoke from another first-half slumber, the damage was already done, however, and had Eddie Nketiah shown more killer instinct, the score and mood could have been even worse for Spurs.

For most of the first half, it was easy to wonder whether Arsenal had more players on the pitch, such was their superior organisation, work rate and technical quality.

Conte’s tactical inflexibility was both disconcerting and costly as his two-man midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, 20, making his Premier League debut, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg were outnumbered by the magnificent three d Arsenal of Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Granit. Xhaka. The trio were frequently supported by left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko or Nketiah, leaving Spurs completely overwhelmed in the middle of the park.

The second goal highlighted the problem perfectly, as a hopeful punt from Lloris was quickly recycled by Partey before Bukayo Saka found Odegaard in the oceans of space. The Norwegian had already tested Lloris with a sight but this time found the skylight with an arrow shot.

Arsenal’s dominance in midfield was also the story of their 3-1 win over Spurs at the Emirates in October, but Conte apparently failed to learn the lessons of that defeat. The Italian’s refusal to deviate from his 3-4-3 system looks increasingly costly, especially when Spurs don’t really have the squad to make it work, and his counter-attacking system felt horribly overwhelmed against Arsenal’s possession game.

Hugo Lloris offered Arsenal the lead with another clanger

/ Getty Images

Conte’s setup made for a grueling debut for Sarr – who held on, in fairness – and left Harry Kane, still one goal behind Jimmy Greaves’ all-time record, forced to drop into midfield to restore parity.

Conte’s other big call-up was also odd, with Ryan Sessegnon starting at left-back ahead of the experienced Ivan Perisic, likely to help counter the threat from Saka.

Sessegnon pulled Saka back for the opening goal, a disastrous own goal from Lloris that turned the winger’s cross into his own net after taking a slight defection from Sessegnon. The former Fulham man also squandered several promising positions, including a one-on-one with Ramsdale.

To be fair to Conte, it was the second home League game in a row in which Lloris offered the opposition the lead with a bang after his mistake for Aston Villa’s opener here on match day. Year.

The Spurs captain had already been forced into a smart save to deny Nketiah after soliciting pressure from Gabriel Martinelli with a sloppy play, and his nervousness set the tone for another miserable first-half display whose Spurs never recovered.

Lloris was a good servant for the club and made some smart saves to deny Odegaard and Nketiah again after half-time, but he also made a mistake in the defeat at the Emirates and is increasingly becoming a liability. Spurs plan to target a long-term successor for the 36-year-old this summer, but there is reason to target a new goalkeeper this month.

As with almost every game this winter, Spurs improved in the second half, with Dejan Kulusevski, Kane, Sessegnon and Richarlison forcing all saves from Ramsdale, who had resisted the efforts of Heung-min Son and the England captain before the interval.

Their improvement, yet again, has only made another abject 45-minute opener all the more infuriating and suggests that it is now an ingrained psychological flaw that Conte must correct.

At full time, Spurs were booed, but with something that sounded more like apathy than genuine anger as the home crowd seemingly accepted a defeat which, based on this season’s performances, does not shouldn’t have surprised.


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