There's only one man who's been making the headlines at White Hart Lane recently, but Sunday's performance against Arsenal showed that Tottenham Hotspur have much more about them than just Gareth Bale.
The last few weeks have seen Bale transform from a top European prospect to a genuine world-class player by singlehandedly winning matches for Tottenham. This has led many critics to label Tottenham as a 'one man team', a phrase which seems perfectly suitable when watching performances like those against West Ham last Monday.
For most of 2013, watching Spurs play has been a painful experience apart from Bale. For much of last season and the first half of this season we played with a buzz and a verve which was thrilling to watch. Quick, incisive passing was complemented with fast movement and rewarded with ruthless finishing; however the last couple of months have been almost unrecognisable. I'm not sure that any team has played so poorly for so long whilst still managing to climb the table and that has, no doubt, been down to Bale's refusal to drop to the level of his peers.
There's a dithering and a lack of ambition that has become endemic in a squad full of talented players. In the past, we've seen the full-backs flying down the wings, Mousa Dembélé charging through the centre and Jermain Defoe blasting in goals for fun whilst Sandro annihilates anyone foolish enough to attempt a move forward. Recently, however, we've been treated to Scott Parker stumbling around the halfway line like the kid in the Hovis ads after his bike's been stolen, whilst Emmanuel Adebayor lazily trudges around the opposition box trying to remember his tax code. Now, though, we have a never-say-die star in our midst who can conjure up a goal from nowhere; and without his ability to perform miracles, Spurs would have started the North London derby already out of the race for Champions League football.
Sunday did indeed see Gareth Bale continue his impressive run, scoring for the fifth Premier League game in a row (only Rafael van der Vaart, Robbie Keane and Teddy Sheringham had previously achieved the feat for Spurs), but finally this was no Gareth Bale show.
It may well have been the occasion that dragged the rest of the team out of their stupor, but signs of their old selves began appearing from some of the other players. With no Sandro, and Parker returning as more of a liability than the enforcer he was last season, Dembélé has been forced to sit deep, sometimes even behind his throwback teammate. This has led to creativity in the Spurs team being strangled at its source; but on Sunday, Dembélé got in front of Parker and on occasion even started to make those trademark runs forward, cutting through the heart of the opposition. His reawakening was felt across the team, with Aaron Lennon being fed the ball in attacking positions where recently he's almost gone missing.
The biggest commendation, though, has to go to the defence, in particular to Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen. Even through the last few games, where in attack Spurs have been poor; Bale has been allowed to win games because the team haven't been conceding goals, a comment which is rarely heard at White Hart Lane. Save for the odd set piece and moment of bad luck, there has been an absence of the panic at the back that was infectious when William Gallas was the first name on the team sheet. It's almost unbelievable to think that Villas-Boas was allowing Dawson to leave at the start of his reign; he and Vertonghen (who has to be one of the signings of the season) seem to have formed a strong partnership, which even though Arsenal spent most of the derby in the ascendency, rarely wavered.
Walker and Assou-Ekotto also raised their game. Walker in general this season has been a shade of the player he was last term, showing none of the zeal which propelled him into the England squad. Assou-Ekotto has also been suffering from a lack of confidence in going forward; although to be fair, as Spurs have effectively been playing without a left midfielder, he has had no one to pass it forward to.
Hugo Lloris also deserves a mention; he has blossomed since cementing his place in the first eleven. At first he looked shaky and anxious where Brad Friedel would be resolute, but in recent weeks he's pulled off (most notably against West Ham) some invaluable saves. Against Arsenal, he continued to demonstrate an anticipation and speed of thought only possessed by the best.
Bale didn't get the ball as much as he has in recent weeks, likely due to his teammates being willing to do their fair share, and blissfully wasn't required to pull off a wonder strike; however his class shone through when he did get in on the action. After breaking through the Arsenal line to slot past Szczesny, I at first thought he'd pulled off an Adebayor air shot before delightedly witnessing him caress the ball with the outside of his gorgeous left foot.
But despite Sunday's win against Arsenal being a collective effort, there are still some huge shortcomings in the Tottenham squad. The major problem is the lack of a striker who can score. The decision not to sign another forward whilst Defoe was injured and Adebayor was away on African Cup of Nations duty was almost criminal. Adebayor, when available, has been suffering from 'that second album' syndrome; nothing seems to be coming off for him this season in the way it did last. As for Defoe, who hasn't seemed to get going again after being lethal before Christmas, he looked lively when coming on for his now injured strike partner. Although if Bale's hot streak comes to an end, it's difficult to see where the goals are going to come from. In recent weeks, along with the aforementioned midfielders and strikers, Sigurdsson and Dempsey have not looked good enough. Sure, they've had the odd lucky tap in; but in general they've been uninspiring figures. Lewis Holtby has looked dynamic on occasion, but is yet to settle. If this squad is to become a top team, one of that group has to step up to the plate.
Sunday's win was a huge stepping stone to finishing in the top four and will hopefully spark the Spurs team to collectively drive forwards towards the end of the season. It was a performance that was certainly not down to Bale alone. A one man team? No. A one man attack? Perhaps.