Graham Ruthven: Spurs can’t waste this chance like Arsenal did in 2006

Tottenham may not like their North London neighbours very much, but there are lessons to be learned from where Arsenal failed in the past.


Through the prism of retrospect, Arsenal’s invincible season of 2003/04 is viewed as the crowning glory of Arsene Wenger’s leadership.

That might not have been the case had the Gunners held on to their lead in the 2006 Champions League final. Whether or not this was Wenger’s best team is up for debate, but a European triumph would have provided the starkest illustration of his tenure for generations to come.

Of course, as we all know, goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti snatched the Champions League trophy away from Arsenal. Wenger left having never delivered European football’s top honour.

He and his Arsenal team were never presented with an opportunity to reach those heights, leaving a whole generation with a twinge of regret that lingers to this day.

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Fast forward 13 years and Tottenham Hotspur face a similar sliding doors moment.

Parallels have long been drawn between Mauricio Pochettino and Wenger, with the Argentinean having made a comparable impact in shaping a North London club, and just like the great Arsenal boss a Champions League final presents an opportunity to cap an era.

Unlike Arsenal, though, Spurs mustn’t allow that chance to pass them by.

Winning the Champions League could have a truly transformational effect on the North London outfit. After years and years, decades even, of aiming for the top, sometimes in vain, victory against Liverpool in Madrid could establish them as a bona fide member of the European elite.

Wenger’s Gunners came close to cementing their place at such a level, pulling off several landmark results in the Champions League (see the win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu or the victory against Juventus in the same season), but their status as a card-carrying member of the elite always felt tied to the Frenchman.

The same might well be true of Pochettino and Spurs even if Liverpool are beaten this weekend.

The Argentinean has moulded the club in its current form. If he leaves, which is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility given recent speculation, the fear is that Tottenham will revert to the default without him.

With this in mind, Saturday’s Champions League final could set up Spurs for a post-Pochettino future.

Speculation is already swirling that Daniel Levy will open the chequebook this summer after two transfer windows without a single signing, but with the famous European Cup in the trophy cabinet at the recently finished and still gleaming Tottenham Hotspur Stadium they might be able to aim a little higher with some of their targets.

Success breeds success. Champions League glory could potentially start a chain reaction that sees Spurs make their place at the top of the European game stick. After all, it’s not so long the thought of Tottenham becoming a permanent top four fixture seemed fanciful. Now, Pochettino has led them there for four successive seasons.

Football operates in cycles and so not even the most dominant of forces can be certain of their supremacy for more than a few years at a time – look at Manchester United’s demise in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson age.

Not even Manchester City, just off the back of a domestic Treble, can be complacent in their position at the top.

Nonetheless, Saturday’s Champions League final feels like more than the biggest game in Tottenham Hotspur’s history, but a game that could, in time, come to be woven into the very fabric of the club.

That is the chance in front of Pochettino and his players. Arsenal had that back in 2006 and they blew it.

Spurs must learn from that lesson or be tied to their North London rivals in regret.

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