Opinion: Chelsea would never allow themselves to sleepwalk into mediocrity like rivals Arsenal
Chelsea and Arsenal go head-to-head in the Premier League with the two clubs on very different paths at present. The Blues' decision to replace Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel looks to have paid dividends, but an unwillingness to embrace change from the Gunners sees them risk falling further away from their London rivals.
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London’s mayoral elections took place recently with Labour Party candidate Sadiq Khan expectedly triumphing over his Conservative rival Shaun Bailey to make sure that England’s capital city remained red rather than blue.
On the football pitch, however, it is rather the case that blue stands head and shoulders above red, with Chelsea on course for a potentially glorious season while cross-town rivals Arsenal are enduring a campaign of unprecedented failure.
The two teams face off at Stamford Bridge this Wednesday with Chelsea looking to lock down their position in the top four of the Premier League, while floundering Arsenal look likely to miss out on Europe completely for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Curiously, the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs can perhaps be traced back to their meeting earlier this season, where it was actually the Gunners who pulled off a stunning 3-1 win at the Emirates.
Ahead of the game, Arsenal were on a seven-match winless run in the league and unbelievably found themselves just three points off the relegation zone down in 15th place, while Chelsea knew a win would take them up to third in the table.
Arsenal’s unexpected victory and impressive performance sparked a mini-revival as they climbed the league with four wins and two draws from their next six matches, ultimately providing much-needed respite for under-fire manager Mikel Arteta.
For Chelsea however, just one league win in the next four saw club legend Frank Lampard sacked after slipping to ninth in the table, and replaced by Thomas Tuchel, who was readily available following his recent departure from Paris Saint-Germain.
With 17 wins and just two defeats from his 25 matches in all competitions, the German has transformed Chelsea while Arteta and Arsenal reverted to type and have barely looked any better than the mid-table position they currently occupy.
The Gunners blew their chance at a return to the Champions League following their Europa League semi-final exit to Villarreal while in contrast a rejuvenated Chelsea will face Manchester City in the final of that very competition at the end of the month looking to bring the famous trophy back to west London for the second time.
Abramovich's ruthless nature at Chelsea has been rewarded
Image credit: Getty Images
Where the two clubs find themselves now is endemic in how they are run. Roman Abramovich is notoriously ruthless when it comes to making changes and sacking managers as soon as things start to go sour, regardless of prior success, reputation, or in the case of Lampard, emotional attachment.
Meanwhile in north London, Stan Kroenke’s hands-off approach and seeming disinterest has left Arsenal in freefall.
The trigger-happy Abramovich is often criticised for his impatience - and the strategy certainly isn't foolproof - but, ultimately, he has more often than not been rewarded for his decisiveness. For example, this year, a season that almost threatened to mirror that of their rivals instead may end up being one of the best in the club’s history.
Arsenal and Kroenke on the other hand have been sleepwalking into mediocrity for years, first waiting too long to make a change with Arsene Wenger when things became stale and then being too sluggish to bring in Arteta when it was clear things weren’t working with Unai Emery.
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Both teams tried to experiment with young, novice managers and Chelsea quickly decided this was not a pathway to success while Arsenal continue to adopt a 'wait and see approach' that could end up proving an irreparable disaster.
The Blues also face Leicester in the FA Cup final this weekend and, curiously, it was this very fixture last season, as well as the previous year’s Europa League final – both coincidentally contested between Arsenal and Chelsea – which highlight the club owners' different approaches.
Despite an eighth-place finish in 2020, Arteta’s victory over Lampard at Wembley convinced the Gunners hierarchy the Spaniard was the man to take them forward whereas 12 months earlier, even a European trophy and third place wasn’t enough to keep Maurizio Sarri in the Stamford Bridge dugout.
Bizarrely, Emery, Arsenal’s beaten manager that dreadful evening in Baku was allowed to muddle on for six more months before eventually getting the chop, despite having failed in his primary objective of reaching the Champions League.
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Going back to that Boxing Day fixture earlier in the campaign, it may be the case Arsenal’s win actually kick-started Chelsea’s season by accelerating the sacking of Lampard. The ambitious Blues identified a problem and acted upon it swiftly, something Arsenal and the Kroenkes are apparently unwilling to do.
Despite a torrid season, by all accounts it looks as though Arteta will be given another chance to redeem himself next year, but there remain many valid questions over whether he is capable of doing so.
Chelsea however, simply would never allow their standards to slip in such a way and every indication is that they will continue to pull away from their hapless rivals unless Arsenal can find a way to change for the better.