Arsenal v Chelsea: The pit and the pendulum

THE ONLY real surprise at the Emirates was the scoreline; Arsenal should have won far more healthily than they did. A two-goal margin really did flatter a Chelsea side that gave new meaning to the term, “Ragbag Rovers”. In little over a year, the club’s new ownership appears to have dismantled two decades of achievement through misinterpreting the asset class they have bought and the nature of team-building. The commitment is there, but the product knowledge is lacking. And Arsenal were hungry and desperate enough to take advantage of Chelsea’s miserable state.

Nobody can blame a lack of money on the part of the new Chelsea regime – they have spent like macho City traders celebrating bonus week, but the cash looks to have been wasted on a selection of players that look like they do not want to be there. Many have been signed because of potential and promise, yet the culture of the club continues to be about immediate success, not delayed gratification, as demonstrated by the reinstallation of the revolving door. Unless there is a swift change in mindset, Chelsea may be launching a fire sale without a fire in the summer. 

Arsenal, apparently, had been on a poor run. Chelsea fans would have given their right arm for that sort of bad sequence of results, a few draws and a defeat. For all the money spent, Chelsea do not have a goalscorer but they do have a disorganised defence and Arsenal revelled in its chaos. 

It took seven minutes for the game to be up, Granit Xhaka, Arsenal’s renaissance man, sent over a cross and Martin Ødegaard sent a superb shot in off the crossbar.  Before the Gunners’ scored their second, Ben Chilwell almost put Chelsea level with a left-foot drive on the run that Aaron Ramsdale did well to push away. But then came two goals in a five minute spell that highlighted Chelsea’s inadequacies, the first a near carbon copy by Ødegaard and then a scrambled effort from Gabriel Jesus. Thirty-four minutes one and it was 3-0. Chelsea were dead and buried and more goals beckoned for the rampant home side as their fans chanted, “you’re going down” at the visitors.

Frank Lampard, who probably cannot get away from “my club” quicker, changed his team in the second half and this, along with Arsenal’s realisation they didn’t have to do too much to keep control, meant the Blues grabbed a consolation in the 64th minute from the willing horse that was Noni Madueke, the former PSV Eindhoven striker who cost a mere € 33 million. Chelsea introduced Mykhailo Mudryk and Arsenal’s loyalists demonstrated their resentment that he chose London SW6 rather than Finsbury Park in the last transfer window by jeering the Ukrainian striker and foolishly and a little tactlessly aiming lasers at his face and body.

In the end, 3-1 really did not do justice to the balance of play over 90 minutes, but Chelsea must have been relieved the game didn’t run dramatically away from them. At half-time, it looked like it could have been a Manchester City-type runaway result. 

The composition of the two teams underlined the current state of the two clubs. Arsenal’s starting line-up and used substitutes cost the club £ 459 million in transfer fees, while Chelsea spent £ 630 million on theirs. Only two home-grown players were employed by both teams. And yet, for all the young talent bought by Chelsea, they had no less than four players over the age of 30 in their first XI. Thiago Silva has been an outstanding addition since he joined, but Cesar Azpilicueta – fine player that he has been – spent the entire game shouting at clouds. Something is very wrong and one wonders how many of the club’s acquisitions in this chaotic new era will be at Stamford Bridge come the middle of 2023-24 season.

As for Arsenal, they have just one nagging problem: Manchester City. This is the Gunners’ season, possibly their best chance of the Premier title because City won’t be weaker next year, they will work tirelessly and economically to put more sky blue water between themselves and their main contenders. Arsenal couldn’t have had a better opponent after their recent run than a directionless Chelsea, but unfortunately for Mikel Arteta, City have to play Chelsea aswell. Arsenal can still win the title, but City have to slip-up. As Liverpool have discovered in recent years, it’s hard to compete with them – and it is not just about money (as Chelsea have shown), it’s also about hoe you spend it.

Chelsea will not get relegated, but ultimately they have to thank the manager they started the campaign with for keeping them up. Thomas Tuchel had a win rate of 50% when he was sacked in September after six games and those 10 points gave them to cushion to survive the 2022-23 season. His record has been much better than the three characters that have followed him in the role.  They might want to think about that one in the dress circle at Stamford Bridge in the coming days.

Chelsea’s new era starts with another big loss

CHELSEA are constantly in the news for one reason or another, from managerial changes, player acquisitions and finances to their below-par performances on the field of play. The club has even changed hands, but the constant scrutiny of the club’s spending behaviour has dominated this new era at Stamford Bridge. 

The 2021-22 season saw the club pass from Roman Abramovich to the consortium fronted by US investor Todd Boehly. The club made a pre-tax loss of £ 121.4 million, taking the accumulated losses since 2003-04 (RA year one) to well over £ 1 billion. In three of the last four seasons, Chelsea have run-up losses of well over £ 100 million. According to football finance expert Kieran Maguire, the club has lost £ 900,000 per week for 19 years.

Chelsea generated record revenues of £ 481.3 million, a rise of 10% on 2020-21’s £ 436 million. Broadcasting, inevitably, was the highest source, the £ 235 million derived from this stream, contributing 49% of total income. Commercial revenues, thanks to increased sponsorship and the renewal of existing deals, were up by 14% to £ 177.1 million, representing 37% of turnover.

With stadiums free of covid restrictions in 2021-22, Chelsea’s matchday earnings were £ 69.2 million, the highest since 2018 and a massive increase on the £ 7.7 million earned in 2020-21. Chelsea’s average attendance fell by 6.8%  to 37,810 and was the 10th best in the Premier League. The club has a clear disadvantage in its relatively small capacity at Stamford Bridge, but the new regime is looking to revisit the new stadium project.

Chelsea’s player trading profits rose substantially from £ 27.9 million to £ 123.2 million, the second highest profit the club has recorded after the £ 143 million posted in 2019-20. Chelsea signed Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for £ 97.5 million, but they also received around £ 115 million from the sale of Tammy Abraham (Roma), Kurt Zouma (West Ham), Marc Guéhi (Crystal Palace) and Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan).

The club’s wage bill for 2021-22 was a record £ 340.2 million, equating to 71% of income. It will be interesting to see how the wage situation looks in 2022-23 with all the big money signings now on board.

Chelsea’s wages compared to the other members of the Premier’s “big six” places the club fourth highest after Manchester United (£373 million), Liverpool (£366 million) and Manchester City (£354 million). They’re also fourth when it comes to revenues behind the same three clubs. In the transfer market, Chelsea’s 2021-22 activity resulted in a net positive of £ 7 million but they were also among the biggest spenders. The biggest net spenders were Arsenal and Newcastle United. Of course, Chelsea have broken all records in 2022-23 with their £ 500 million spending spree, the outcome of which has yet to reveal itself.

The willingness to invest in new talent demonstrated some level of ambition, but it will have downsides. A trend has developed in the form of longer-term contracts, which helps deal with financial fair play concerns. However, Chelsea may find they have a top heavy squad in the near future which will need some pruning. Furthermore, the lack of stability in the manager’s chair, a feature of the Abramovich era, appears to be continuing under Boehly. The sacking of Graham Potter was the second such dismissal since the US consortium took over. Abramovich’s aides could at least point to a long run of success to justify the continual  churning of the team management, but the first Boehly sacking, Thomas Tuchel, has just been appointed coach at Bayern Munich, which serves to highlight the flaw in their current thinking. The answer may have been there all along. It just needed a little patience, perhaps?

At present, Chelsea look like a club that has – temporarily – lost its way despite the influx of players. The return of Frank Lampard as stand-in, a popular figure considered unsuitable for the job in his first stint in the role, appears to be something of a desperate move to win favour from the Chelsea faithful. After all the spending this season, it would seem unlikely that anywhere near the same amount of cash will be made available in 2023-24. Whoever gets the job full-time may have to work with a pre-assembled squad of random players. The short-term, at least, looks a little tricky.