Tottenham’s hopes of saving their season rest on a win at home to bitter rivals Arsenal on Thursday.
It is hardly a situation that anyone involved at Spurs wanted to be in come this stage of the season, particularly after it looked like they would run away with a top-four place before Brighton and Brentford stopped them in their tracks last month.
Thursday’s north London derby – the first competitive derby in front of a full-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – stands as the biggest for both clubs since April 2006 when Arsenal rescued a late 1-1 draw at Highbury to help eventually pip Spurs to fourth place.
Heading into this derby, the player who will have the most eyes on him will be Son Heung-min.
Harry Kane remains Arsenal’s number one enemy and Tottenham’s biggest name, but he has reverted to a support role in recent weeks. Son has become the main beneficiary of Kane’s evolving game and he now has a huge chance to etch his name firmly into club folklore.
Of course, this would also require Spurs to go on and finish above Arsenal, but if Son is the one to put the sword to their biggest foes on their way to a rare leapfrogging of the Gunners, then his place on Tottenham’s honour roll will be undisputed.
The South Korean recently made his way onto Spurs’ list of all-time scorers to relatively little fanfare, now ranking tenth with 128 goals. His goal in last week’s 1-1 draw at Anfield closed the gap on Golden Boot favourite Mohamed Salah to just two strikes and no player has scored more from open play in the Premier League this season.
There has rarely been a more fun sight for Spurs fans in recent years than that of Son sprinting away, his hurried face blowing in the wind as if he were an astronaut getting ready for a NASA rocket launch, the crowd rising to their feet and shouting ‘go on!’ at him. When Son cuts inside (onto either foot, it’s all the same), there’s always a chance that the ball is heading for the top corner.
Son is beloved in the Spurs dressing room / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages
Part of Son’s lack of appropriate appreciation stems from playing alongside Kane, who is likely to go down as Tottenham’s best ever player and the Premier League’s record scorer. It’s only natural for him to go a little under the radar.
But in comparison to Spurs’ other modern greats, he has surpassed the early 2010s generation of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric as much as he has his contemporaries in Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.
Whereas others opted for moves away, Son has remained fiercely loyal in an age of player agitation. It’s hard to recall any point since a failed move to Wolfsburg in 2016 where the former Bayer Leverkusen man has even featured on a transfer gossip column.
On this week’s episode of Oh What A Night – 90min’s Tottenham podcast – Sean Walsh, Jude Summerfield and Dan Kilpatrick review Saturday’s draw at Liverpool and look ahead to the north London derby…
While even golden boy Kane tried to force a move away last summer, Son instead penned a new long-term contract off the back of his best ever season, only to go and better that this term to complete his cycle of progression.
He grew to prominence in Tottenham’s 2016/17 Premier League title charge, nailed down his place as a starter the next year and then scored several key goals in their run to the 2019 Champions League final. When the team went into a rebuild, he stuck around and often willed the team to wins on his own, reaching double figures of goals and assists in the 2019/20 and 20202/21 seasons.
His name isn’t chanted as much on the steep banks of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and he may not be remembered in the exact same bracket as their current number ten, but Son will go down as a Spurs legend – it’s now just a matter of what more he can achieve with the collective, and firing Antonio Conte’s side back to Champions League football will raise that ceiling again.
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