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 By Nick Miller

Pochettino sparks Tottenham to leave stale Wenger and Arsenal behind

It was just after he announced he had verbally agreed a new contract at Tottenham that Mauricio Pochettino summed things up.

When asked if committing his future to the club had been a difficult decision, he said: "Why change?" as if it was a question that barely needed to be posed, never mind answered.

Why change, indeed. For this year, barring an alarming late turnaround, there will be no St Totteringham's day, the point in the season previously celebrated by some Arsenal fans, as the day it was confirmed they would finish above Spurs in the league.

That day has been celebrated 21 times in a row, but not this year, as while Tottenham's title bid will surely fall just short, they will at least have the satisfaction of finishing above their rivals.

The concern for Arsenal is not that they trail their rivals now, but whether they will do so for years to come. This season has showed Tottenham improving and moving forwards, offering performances that have surprised both their supporters and neutrals. Arsenal, meanwhile, haven't so much regressed as not changed at all, only serving to frustrate any observer, never mind their fans.

As is often the case with these things, this is a reflection of the respective men in charge of both clubs. It is possible to over-analyse the manner of managers when talking in public, but it was impossible not to note the differences between the two men before last weekend's games.

Pochettino was relaxed, in control, looking exactly like a man who knows his best years are ahead of him. Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, chose to partly blame Arsenal's home fans for their state of inertia, pointing to the "difficult atmosphere" at the Emirates when they've been playing the Premier League's lesser teams. That he did so the day before they played Norwich, one of those lesser teams at the Emirates, when a protest against him was already planned, can at best be filed under "interesting timing".

The managers have made all the difference. You could make arguments in favour of either squad, but there wouldn't be a huge amount in it. And yet one plays rapid, thrilling football that has seen them go closer to winning the league than Arsenal have since, well, they last won the league in 2004, while the other adopts the same possession-heavy, often ineffective game they have been playing for years.

While Mauricio Pochettino has galvanised Tottenham, Arsenal have stagnated under Arsene Wenger.

Both teams drew at home 1-1 recently, and in a broadly similar manner. Both took the lead, dominated play from that point and created numerous chances. Both failed to take them and were eventually hit with a surprise equaliser. The difference was that for Tottenham against West Brom, it was an exception, a rare case of their attack not managing to break through. For Arsenal against Crystal Palace, it was same old, same old -- to the point that you barely needed to watch the game to know exactly how it had played out.

The positivity and simplicity of Pochettino's attitude and instructions seems to be key. ''It is very clear in our minds," said Hugo Lloris recently.

"Every day, the speech of the gaffer is very clear -- carry on and don't think too much. Whatever will happen, we try to just be focused on ourselves, that's the key, don't think too much about what is going on around us and all the words around the team."

There's a freshness to things at Tottenham that doesn't seem to be present at Arsenal, which is partly to do with youth. Spurs have the youngest average age in the Premier League at around 24. The only Arsenal players that age or younger to start more than 10 league games this season have been Joel Campbell, 23, Hector Bellerin, 21, and Francis Coquelin, 24. Tottenham have seven players in that category.

Not that youth necessarily means inexperience, either. Or, at least, not in the minds of the Tottenham players.

"Sometimes I think experience might be overrated," said Jan Vertonghen, a relative old man at 29. "If you see the way this team plays, we're just enjoying playing together. I can see us playing like this until the end of the season."

Of course we could all be wrong about Tottenham. While it doesn't currently look that way, this might actually be the height of their potential. Their young players might not improve after this and they could slip out of the reckoning next season. Their future is unpredictable.

Arsenal's isn't, though, and that's the problem. While Wenger is in charge, we know pretty much what will happen from year to year. A rot has been allowed to set in, which has led to their relative underperformance in the league in general, but also to finally slipping behind Tottenham.

This team under Pochettino is still a work in progress, one that the manager admits has over-achieved and is ahead of schedule. Arsenal should have won the league this season, but instead are probably going to finish behind their rivals for the first time in a generation. The task now becomes making sure it only happens once.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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