The Beginning of the End for Conte at Spurs?

Spurs manager Antonio Conte

Tottenham Hotspurs saw their unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign come to an end at the hands of their North London rivals Arsenal on Saturday at the Emirates. Manager Antonio Conte seemed to have given up at a certain point in the match, with many wondering if this is the beginning of the end for Conte at Spurs.

Despite the North London derby being their first league defeat of the season, Spurs haven’t been playing a sustainable brand of football, often setting up in a low-block with the aim of hitting their opponents on the counterattack, much to the dismay of many Spurs fans.

Supporters of the Lilywhites had brushed aside rival fan’s accusations of Conte deploying an antagonistic style of play, but may be starting to understand those views as a few results this season flattered Spurs, namely the 6-2 win over Leicester and the draw at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, where they were fortunate to walk away with a point.

North London counterparts Arsenal went into the weekend’s fixture off the back of a strong opening seven games, with the Gunners sitting pretty at the top of the table. Key to Arsenal’s emphatic start is their midfield, with Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka coming on leaps and bounds this season as he looks like a player reborn. In fact, Xhaka has a strong argument for being one of, if not the best midfielder in the league thus far.

Furthermore, Thomas Partey had returned to full fitness just prior to the international break, playing a pivotal role in the Gunner’s 3-0 win over Brentford last month. The Ghanaian international is a crucial cog in Mikel Arteta’s team, helping out his defence by breaking up play, and adding to the attack by progressing the ball up field with line-breaking passes.

Despite the fine form exhibited by Arsenal’s midfield, Antonio Conte did not counteract it by doing what most expected him to do: flood the midfield to stand a greater chance of winning the battles in the middle of the park. Furthermore, the former Inter coach didn’t start new summer signing Yves Bissouma, who has dominated the midfield against ‘Big Six’ clubs throughout his time at Brighton.

This proved a costly and naïve decision as both Xhaka and Partey grabbed a goal as the Gunners ran out 3-1 victors.

Arsenal midfield duo Granit Xhaka (left) and Thomas Partey (right), with striker Gabriel Jesus (back)
Arsenal midfield duo Granit Xhaka (left) and Thomas Partey (right), with striker Gabriel Jesus (back)

However, it was the decision made by Conte around the 70th minute mark that sparked the most debate.

Following the concession of the 3rd Arsenal goal, as well as having a man sent off after Emerson put in a dangerous tackle on Martinelli, Conte made a quadruple substitution, effectively accepting defeat.

The Spurs boss hauled off attacking-minded players in Richarlison, Son, Perisic as well as defender Lenglet, and replaced them with defensive options in Ryan Sessegnon, Bissouma, Davidson Sánchez and Matt Doherty.

The changes sent the message of acceptance to the opposition as well as to the Spurs fans, who were undoubtedly livid with the substitutions. Despite it being clear that Spurs didn’t have much of a chance getting back into the game, especially being a man down, the decision would’ve hurt Spurs supporters even more given the history of the fixture and the mutual antipathy shared between the fanbases.

Furthermore, it emanates the idea that Conte doesn’t rate his players even after making six signings in the summer. The substitutions suggest that the Italian coach didn’t believe his team could get themselves back into the derby, or that they were not capable of keeping the score at 3-1 without the army of defenders he brought on.

Conte only signed an 18-month contract with Spurs towards the back-end of 2021. After being linked with a sensational return to Juventus, it may be that Conte’s focus is elsewhere as he has his eye on how Allegri is doing over in Turin. 

Despite his undoubted quality and pedigree as a top-class manager, it seems that Conte doesn’t trust his squad of players. Given his record of instant success at all clubs he’s been in charge of, it is unlikely that the Italian will stick around long enough to assemble a squad to his satisfaction.

For that reason, we don’t see Antonio Conte being in the Spurs’ dugout come the first game of the 2023/2024 Premier League campaign.

Spurs manager Antonio Conte
Spurs manager Antonio Conte