Tottenham morphing into Arsenal of a decade ago, both the good and the bad
Appoint a foreign manager. Appoint a manager who plays attacking football. Appoint a French manager. Appoint a manager who played for Arsene Wenger. Appoint an experienced manager.
A period of Tottenham's comparatively recent past can seem a series of policies borrowed from their North London neighbours. They eyed Wenger's blueprint and record enviously. They tried, with varying degrees of success, to become Arsenal.
And perhaps now they are. They are developing a new stadium that will be the biggest in North London. Their top-four finishes look like becoming annual occurrences, whereas Arsenal may be forever trapped below the dotted line, gazing upwards in frustration.
The issue, perhaps, is that the Arsenal that Tottenham have transformed themselves into is not the 1997-2004 version of three league titles, two doubles and an "Invincible" season but the 2006-13 variant, the austerity-era achievers whose accomplishments were measured in Champions League qualification, rather than the need for a bigger trophy cabinet. Courtesy of Juventus, Tottenham have already got the round-of-16 Champions League exit that became Arsenal's trademark during that time.
Saturday's FA Cup tie at Swansea is part of a chance to change that narrative, to triumph in a competition that, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City already eliminated, looks distinctly winnable. Yet Arsenal could recall the 2007, 2008 and 2011 League Cups, all of which seemed to offer similar opportunities, and none of which they lifted.
There seems the same relaxed attitude towards glory. Last month, Mauricio Pochettino denied that Tottenham need to win silverware this season. It was not quite Wenger's infamous view that fourth place equates to a trophy, but it was underpinned by a certain shared logic: that it is simplistic to damn teams without honours a failure, especially when the environment has changed and they offer sustainability in challenging times.
The "jam tomorrow" school of management was perhaps necessitated by financial restrictions. They often seemed a year or two away from being something special, a player or two from being the finished article. Perhaps, in hindsight, their great chance came before they were ready: for Arsenal in 2007-08, when a youthful side only lost one of their first 30 league games and for Tottenham in 2015-16, Dele Alli's first season in the Premier League and Harry Kane's second full campaign, when Leicester were crowned champions.
They are young teams who found it hard to take the final step and, in both cases, found themselves criticised for lacking ruthlessness on decisive occasions. And yet they were never quite the finished article. Arsenal's talent drain took Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, to name but five, from the Emirates Stadium, either to clubs who were likelier trophy winners or who could pay higher salaries or both.
The personal loyalty most felt towards Wenger did not keep them, just as Pochettino's bond with his players may not be enough to retain their services. If some Spurs fans get understandably irritated about the obligatory mentions of Kane and Alli potentially leaving, the question persists if Kyle Walker's sale last summer becomes the first of a yearly trend. Just as Arsenal's former players could increase their salaries by upping sticks, so Tottenham's current crop, footballers of the calibre of Toby Alderweireld, feel underpaid now. Like Arsenal then, Spurs could start every close-season now with the initial disadvantage of having to replace a key player. They have budgetary constraints, cut-price alternatives to geopolitical rivals powered by petrodollars.
It makes them sides who, in other eras, may have found honours easier to come by. Instead, confronted by Roman Abramovich's Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour's Manchester City, theirs is an uphill playing field. Arsenal's other misfortune was to face two of the strongest sides English football has produced, in Chelsea and Manchester United. Spurs may now face a similar scenario; last season, they were runners-up when Chelsea recorded the second-highest points total in Premier League history and now City are threatening to dominate for years.
All of which could mean the Pochettino era -- and without necessarily having Wenger's staying power, he is contracted until 2021 and said in October he would love to stay for 15 years -- is either noted for the collection of consolation prizes or for the kind of silverware drought that led Jose Mourinho, ignoring a differential in resources and consistent league finishes, to brand Wenger "a specialist in failure."
If it displayed an ignorance, there may yet be an action replay: there are hints that the serial trophy-gatherer Mourinho has the critics' darling Pochettino in his sights. Yet while the Portuguese may not acknowledge as much, there are far worse things to be than the 2006-13 Arsenal (including, arguably, the 2018 Arsenal). They financed the building of a ground, purveyed an attractive brand of football and finished in the Champions League places. Spurs may be their modern-day counterparts, but with a subtle distinction in terms of their direction: they have moved upwards into the top four, Arsenal downwards after being accustomed to finishing in the top two. They should probably be praised for becoming the new Arsenal. Exit the FA Cup, however, and they may be condemned for copying their local rivals.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.