The good news for Tottenham is they are in a far better position than the last time they played Arsenal at the back end of September.
The not-so-good news is the man responsible for the uptick in form since that desperate 3-1 defeat, Antonio Conte, has now begun to chunter on about the same troublesome topic that has so obsessed many of those managers who have passed before him.
Tottenham Hotspur and money. We have been here before and it hasn’t always ended well. This time, given the positive impression Conte has made on the Spurs playing staff and supporters, chairman Daniel Levy will hope to find a resolution quickly.
Conte, 52, is a fine football manager but also a hardened politician and in recent days the games have begun.
Frustrated about what he fears may be a lack of serious activity from Levy and football director Fabio Paratici in the current transfer window, Conte is now surrounded by rumours about his very own future. He may walk out, it has been said.
He could have killed those stories with one sentence as he spoke yesterday. But instead Conte let the subject hang and, as he knows very well, the story will now roll on.
On the one hand, he stressed that he was enjoying himself at Tottenham on Friday. He would ‘stay strong until the end of the season’, he added.
Equally, when asked directly whether he would still be around even at the end of the month, he chose to obfuscate.
‘Honestly, I like to live in the present and not to think a lot of the future,’ he said. ‘Now it is important to live in the present, to improve the situation and get the best out of my players.
‘The present is now, the future is later. Later could be too much late for us. I signed a contract for the end of the season and then one year more. But I am enjoying my time and I have a good relationship with the chairman and the general director.’
Tottenham fans have watched this scene before. Mauricio Pochettino once starred in it. Then Jose Mourinho. They know how it works and that will be the concern. The way it works is that Levy — still finding ways in a Covid world to pay for the stadium Conte loves so much — tends not to be bullied. He tends not to bend.
Conte, meanwhile, is a man who wins things and Spurs have not won anything for 14 years. The potential for improvement under the former Chelsea boss is clear.
But Conte is also aggressive and stubborn and it would be a huge shame if the strides his new team have made under him already are ultimately compromised by what is essentially the essence of his own personality.
Tottenham do need new and better players. Conte is right about that. Equally, he must have known when he took the job that transfer money would be tight. He must have had those conversations with Levy.
When this was put to him on Friday, he said: ‘In this moment I think I can’t confirm this. Also because with me the club did not spend money. I have only been here two months. I think that we have to go to do the right things.’
Asked, then, if the message from Levy had changed between November and now, he said: ‘I did not sign for Tottenham because the chairman told me something about the money the club is going to spend, honestly.
‘I accepted because I felt that Tottenham could be a fantastic situation for me to work, to try to bring my idea of football and to try to create something important for this club. For sure they said to me that: “We want to improve”.
‘I don’t lose my ambition and this must be very clear. I like to fight for something important. So now we have to try to improve and to bring the team to an important level. It will be very difficult because the gap is not a little gap.’
The unfortunate truth for any Tottenham manager is that it will be many years before the club will spend money in the way that Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United do. Indeed, it may never happen.
Conte has at least given Tottenham some relevance again after the toxic regression of Mourinho and the strange and short tenure of Nuno Espirito Santo at the beginning of this season.
If the game goes ahead on Sunday the home team will start as slight favourites in front of their supporters against an Arsenal team that will be missing many players and, despite the heart and tenacity shown in Thursday’s Carabao Cup draw at Liverpool, still possess a soft underbelly too often shown on the big occasion.
Arsenal are progressing under Mikel Arteta but, as Conte pointed out yesterday, the Spaniard is more than two years into his own managerial journey at the club.
Tottenham’s improvement under Conte has arrived in bursts. At Arsenal, steps forward have been taken more gently but that is not to say Arteta does not know what impatience feels like.
‘If you want to change the team, you want to change the way of playing, a culture, and it has to be done in certain periods,’ Arteta said. ‘Every project, every phase, has a deadline. If you go over that deadline then the project dies.
‘If you say it doesn’t matter if we do something in a year or in five years then that would kill the belief of anyone who is following that project.
‘You have to be very much aligned with everybody making the decisions. The timeframe has to be respected before going into places that nobody is comfortable with.’
It was an articulate and doubtless completely unintentional way of shedding light on to what may yet be a developing situation at the home of tomorrow’s opponents.
If Conte and Levy are aligned then the manager is not saying so. In terms of an uncomfortable place, the Spurs manager seems happy for people to believe he is approaching one already.