This week’s Stamford Bridge crime sheet spares no one. Culpable most obviously for Van Persie’s second goal, captain John Terry was at the forefront of the Blues’ defensive collapse; his slip reminiscent of that penalty in Moscow three and a half years ago. Despite scoring, Lampard was overrun in midfield by an effervescent Ramsey – the Welshman’s dominance at the root of Arsenal’s second half goal rush.
The cracks were showing long before kick-off, though. John Terry has looked sluggish since the 2010 World Cup, Lampard this season a slower, more sterile version of his former self and Petr Cech distinctly inferior to the goalkeeper who won two Premier League titles pre-concussion.
Perhaps Abramovich is already living to regret not cashing in on younger, more desirable incarnations of Lampard and Terry. The duo are fast becoming emblematic of a Chelsea team devoid of intelligence and imagination. Embroiled in a racism row with Anton Ferdinand, Terry’s controversial endeavor both on and off the field makes for baggage that his talent can no longer carry, while Lampard’s “twenty goals a season” tag is a cliche groping for support.
Fitting that it was Arsenal – so often the punching bag of a greater, bygone, Chelsea Football Club – who were responsible for Saturday’s humiliation. Fresh and young, the frustratingly naive Gunners are hardly a template for success, but in their rejuvenation post-Fabregas is an example worth following.
While injury and retirement rather than the financial might of rivals will likely dictate Chelsea’s eventual overhaul, there is something for them to learn in Wenger’s steely approach to re-construction. The addition of Juan Mata has added spark to Villas-Boas’ midfield but, as Torres identified a few weeks ago, the ponderous nature of the middle core continues to hinder them.
Completed in twenty-four hours of sheer mayhem, Arsenal’s project was rushed but effective. The defense still creaks, but a new-look midfield anchored by the elegant Arteta has fourth a manageable goal. Blessed with greater financial resources and a steadier platform to build-off of, Chelsea’s inevitable face lift need not be so hurried. In Andre Villas-Boas the Blues already have an intelligent and competent manager. He belongs at the head of Chelsea’s evolution.
With Juan Mata already in tow, what the Blues require is support group energetic enough to revitalize their morbid midfield – a vibrant central duo in the same mold as Ramsey and Arteta.
In their oft ignored youth ranks lies a potential source of optimism. Josh McEachran is undoubtedly talented, but as he continues to be denied first team experience a move away becomes increasingly probable.
Deeper in the organization, Chelsea too must re-stabilize. From flamboyant (Scolari) to lugubrious (Grant), polar personalities have dominated the pulpit – contrasting characters serving only to exacerbate problems automatically associated with perpetual flux.
For the emulation of past achievements to be considered and the plundering of Europe’s holy grail made a realistic target, Chelsea must find a management structure that stays permanent; a coach both trusted and autonomous, a backroom staff with some semblance of job security.
The ego machine that is Roman Abramovich needs to show lenience towards the man in charge, sticking with Villa-Boas even if this season’s efforts prove fruitless.
With the title already slipping out of sight, matches to come will take on an importance that transcends the barriers of single-season competition. Already, this campaign looks set to be one of observance – a short term failure that dictates the course of long-term action.
A year of toil is hardly one that Chelsea’s Russian oligarch will appreciate; men as successful as him tend not to possess the requisite patience. It is vital, though, that this time he stays calm, that this time he believes.
However alien the notion may be, for the sake of the future Abramovich and Chelsea must apply measured and circumspect logic to events of the present. By accepting the sacrifice of today, they ensure the sustainability of tomorrow.
In Wenger Arsenal trust; Villas-Boas deserves the same, Terry and Lampard don’t.