When Daniel Levy first dreamed of a new Spurs stadium, this was the kind of evening he would have imagined. A capacity crowd, cash tills ringing and his team winning.
With two games of an increasingly tense season remaining, the Tottenham chairman has only one problem and that comes in the shape of the sturdy Italian man found halfway between his technical area and the corner flag early in the first half on Thursday night.
Antonio Conte was booked for that particular adventure but nobody will remember that now. This was a night that informed us further about just what Conte could bring to this club in the long-term but also what a disaster – in sporting terms at least – it would be if he was to leave prematurely.
Tottenham won the bragging rights after they beat 10-man Arsenal in the North London derby
It was a record capacity crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – the first time this ground has been sold out for this fixture since it opened in 2019
Conte’s Tottenham team were lovely to watch here on this clear spring night. They were energetic, positive and, when it was required in the big moments, they were clinical too.
Helped in some measure by Arsenal’s recklessness, Spurs were the more assertive team prior to Rob Holding’s red card. This was a victory that was theirs on merit.
What it doesn’t do, though, is guarantee Tottenham a place in next season’s Champions League. Despite the euphoria that enveloped this great modern stadium as it became clear the home team would win, Arsenal are still a point ahead in this local squabble for fourth position in the Premier League.
If they win their final two games at Newcastle and at home to Everton, Mikel Arteta’s team will be in Europe and Tottenham’s Conte problem will only harden.
It was a dream night for Spurs chairman Daniel Levy (right) but Antonio Conte’s (left) future at the club beyond the summer remains unclear, particularly if his side miss out on the top four
Before kick-off here, the Spurs manager – contracted for this season and next – sat in the dug out and looked up and around him. Some sight this place must be from down there, too.
The giant gold cockerel that stands proudly atop the stand behind one goal was about to witness the biggest game since this place opened just prior to the pandemic that caused it to stand empty for so long.
This was a heck of a fixture and a heck of a night, one to give Conte pause when he thinks that he may be better served working somewhere else, somewhere with more money, somewhere that can provide him with a clearer and less complicated route to the top of a league table.
But this is a strange thing about Conte. He is a superb coach of footballers and of football teams. He has that rare and almost unquantifiable ability to funnel much of his own vitality and confidence directly in to the hearts and minds of his players.
He has revitalised this club and this team in only six months and the potential for further improvement and growth should he choose to stay is clear.
Arsenal have made progress at walking pace and Mikel Arteta has been comfortable with that
However, the flip side of all this is that it is less the coaching that motivates him and more the winning. He wants trophies and wants them quickly.
Spurs do not necessarily offer that in a domestic environment that has been morphed beyond recognition by the brilliance of Manchester City and Liverpool and so Conte remains at an disadvantage that he simply has not been used to in previous postings at Inter and Chelsea.
And it’s a shame because there is so much to love about Tottenham on nights like this. Harry Kane – free now from the distractions of a possible move to City – is back to his magnificent best. His partner Son Heung-min is not far behind. Here, both were too much for Arsenal on an evening when absolutely nothing went right for the away side.
Arteta is on a different journey to Conte altogether. The Spaniard has been at Arsenal almost two and half years and his definition of progress remains contrasting to Thursday night’s opponent.
Arsenal have progressed to this stage at walking pace and Arteta has been more than comfortable with that. Conte simply cannot live his professional life that way and so Levy and the Spurs board must hope for an Arsenal misstep over the next week or so and then some productive conversations about what happens next.
Conte simply cannot live his professional life that way and will want to win titles next season
Mauricio Pochettino is not expected to return, whatever happens. But Tottenham are aware of the need for a contingency plan if Conte decides a future in north London is not for him. Brighton’s Graham Potter, for example, is once again on a pretty short list.
On the field, Conte and Tottenham continue to look a good fit. There is a charisma about the 52-year-old that suits the club’s definition of old school glamour.
But his list of demands will be long and expensive this summer, regardless of whether Tottenham are in next season’s Champions League.
This was a great Spurs night and Levy will have enjoyed it but the need for clarity remains unquenched.