Spurs had only runners-up spot and north London bragging rights to fight for at White Hart Lane following last Monday’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea which handed the title to Leicester.
However, those stakes were enough to dampen their end of season party plans as a goal in each half from Steven Davis, cancelling out Son’s opener, gave Southampton a deserved victory.
The match came just hours before Arsenal travelled to Manchester City — where they drew 2-2 to move within two points of their bitter rivals — and inevitably questions afterwards focused on an ambition to finish above Arsene Wenger’s side for the first time in 21 years. However Pochettino, whose team head to Newcastle on Sunday while Arsenal host relegated Aston Villa, wants to break the mould by recalibrating his club’s ambitions.
He said: “I don’t care about Arsenal. I want to win the league, I want to be on the top. Arsenal, I don’t care what happens. To try to improve and be and bigger and bigger I think we have to think about ourselves and not think about our neighbours.
“I understand what the fans feel. But we are professional and we need to analyse it in an entirely different way. We have to build our own philosophy and ideas. Then the consequence is to be above all our rivals and not just Arsenal.”
It’s a credit to Pochettino that he was brave enough to say it; because this Spurs team is certainly good enough to have far more lofty ambitions than just keeping themselves one place above an under-achieving Arsenal side.
“The most important thing is we need to spend energy trying to win games like today,” he added. ”I don’t care what happens with our opponents. For me Arsenal or Chelsea it’s the same. We want to be above them not just this season but every season. If next season we want to fight to win the league we need to improve and we need to kill games earlier. I’m proud of my players but we need to be critical with ourselves to get better.“
This was always going to be a difficult afternoon for Tottenham, coming so soon after the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’ when they threw away a two-goal lead against Chelsea.
It’s worth remembering, too, that they were ahead against a Southampton side who have now won six of their last eight games to mount a serious challenge for European qualification.
Tottenham started strongly enough with Christian Eriksen forcing a fine save from Fraser Forster, before taking the lead after 16 minutes when Forster came out far too slowly to meet Son and the Spurs striker squeezed the ball past him from close in.
Southampton, however, were neat, tidy and well-drilled and with a front three of Sadio Mane, Shane Long and Dusan Tadic they had pace and energy to burn, consistently causing problems for the Spurs defence.
They went into half-time deservedly level after Davis turned home a low cross from Tadic, Tottenham temporarily switching off as defender Kyle Walker lay prone on the halfway line with team-mates claiming the game should have been stopped.
Southampton grew into the game in the second half as the home side wilted in the heat.
It was no real surprise when Davis made it 2-1 after 69 minutes, playing a one-two with Tadic before dribbling a shot into the far corner; and from then on the Saints saw out the game pretty professionally against a Spurs side which clearly didn’t have the energy to mount even a late surge.
“It’s a great win; a big, big achievement and now we need one more win,” said Southampton manager Ronald Koeman, whose side, now in sixth place, are home to Crystal Palace on the final day with the Europa League in sight.
Spurs, thanks to a superior goal difference, need just a draw at St James’ Park, to achieve their happy ending of finishing above Arsenal.
But Pochettino’s right, it really shouldn’t be their measure of success any more.
Lloris 5, Walker 6, Alderweireld 6 Vertonghen 7, Rose 7; Dier 6, Mason 5 (Chadli 75; 5); Lamela 6, Eriksen 6, Son 7 (Clinton 64; 6); Kane 6
Forster 6, Martina 7, Fonte 7, Van Dijk 7, Bertrand 7, Clasie 5 (Romeo 57; 7) Davis 8, Wanyama 8, Mane 7 (Pelle 64; 6), Tadic 6 (Ward-Prowse 83; 6), Long 8