The folks at Tottenham Hotspur—employees and fans alike—do not need much reason to dislike their north London rivals Arsenal. Gunners striker Olivier Giroud handed it to them, though, when he recently talked about his compatriot Hugo Lloris:
Whatever the France teammates discuss socially is between them. But the notion of Tottenham selling their goalkeeper to Arsenal is laughable (though as a general precaution, they may want to think about extending his contract beyond its current expiration in 2016).
Still, considering the great form Lloris is in right now, it is understandable Spurs have sought to squash the rumours and any threat of distraction. Prior to Tottenham's win over Newcastle United on Wednesday, the player spoke to the club's official website:
I think maybe some words were twisted, but it is embarrassing. I don't think that, I'm very focused on Spurs' ambition and I am very pleased to play for Spurs.
I have too much respect for the Club and the Spurs fans to think that kind of thing. Of course I know him very well because we are teammates in the national team—the same with Laurent Koscielny—but I am a Spurs player and I'm very proud to play here.
Lloris also addressed recent speculation suggesting Champions League qualification was a must for him this season. Whilst not downplaying its importance to Spurs, the 27-year-old cited regular Premier League football as being as important an attraction in his initial decision to move to White Hart Lane.
Whatever his true feelings, a top-four place remains a distinct possibility in large part because of the Frenchman. The way he is playing right now, he could be the difference between Spurs finishing above the cutoff line, or not.
Tim Sherwood's team were good for their 4-0 defeat of Newcastle, but had Lloris to thank for the game evolving the way it did. He kept out Papiss Cisse from close range when the score was 0-0. Later on, the keeper made athletic stops from Cisse, Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran to preserve Spurs's two-goal advantage before they subsequently added to it.
Lloris was just as instrumental in seeing the Lilywhites through Everton's early onslaught this past weekend. Crucial in that win, there was little he could do to stop Manchester City weeks earlier, but made some excellent saves to keep the score down in a valiant effort.
It is not new news that Lloris is a pretty darn good goalie. But the high standard of his recent displays have been timely for Tottenham, and a boost for him individually following a tough preceding couple of months.
Only Lloris can judge with reasonable accuracy how the head injury he suffered away at Everton affected him. It might have had little baring on his performances whatsoever. But whether as a consequence or just coincidence, his usually impeccable judgement was a little more off than he would have liked for a while there.
The poor kicking that played Man City in early in the 6-0 November loss was followed a few weeks later by a misjudged cross against Sunderland, allowing Adam Johnson to score. On New Years Day, Lloris almost gave away a costly penalty against Manchester United.
Considering Spurs won the latter two games, it is nitpicking to overly criticise a performer as otherwise sound as the France captain. The margins in the Premier League are so fine, though, that an on-song Lloris is capable of edging his team on that much further.
As his goalkeeping coach Tony Parks recently put it in an interview with TottenhamHotspur.com, "I don’t think there is a lot to choose between the top goalkeepers these days, just their mental strength and that’s the area that really impresses me with Hugo."
Parks' two-part assessment of Lloris made for interesting reading:
Among the details on Lloris's off-field personality, his playing style and a comparison to former Spurs great Ray Clemence, Parks' bold declaration that "he is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and I won’t change my opinion on that," certainly stood out.
Spurs will need to build on their most recent two wins if they are to remain in contention for the Champions League. As the home loss to Man City showed, Lloris's efforts will count for little if the rest of the team do not perform.
The calibre of the performance in the Newcastle win showed what Tottenham are capable of. When those qualities are tested against the tougher opposition they are still to face, there is a good chance potential points will hinge on Lloris yet again citing his case as the division's best.