After three defeats in four the big-spending Blues have slipped down the Premier League table, and questions may now be asked of Frank Lampard
After putting a difficult week behind them with victory over West Ham last Saturday, Chelsea arrived at Arsenal with many expecting the Blues to ease past the struggling Gunners and pile even more pressure on Mikel Arteta.
But after the home side’s 3-1 Boxing Day victory at the Emirates Stadium, it is now Frank Lampard who is facing increasing scrutiny, with Chelsea’s title challenge in real danger of ending before it even had chance to get going.
Defeat to Arsenal is never accepted by Chelsea supporters, but the manner of the loss against a team who kicked off in 15th, had not won a league game since November 1 and had three players pull out late for illness-related reasons will have been the most frustrating.
It is now three Premier League defeats in four for Lampard’s side, who are still to beat a ‘Big Six’ club this term, while the aforementioned victory over West Ham remains the only time they have beaten a top-half team.
Even that win came via a performance that failed to inspire, which, from a team that had £220 million ($275m) spent on it during the summer, is rather concerning.
“You can’t lack energy and desire in the Premier League and we did,” Lampard told BBC Sport after watching his side put in a lethargic display in north London.
“You can prepare as well as you want but if you turn up like that that’s another thing. It’s in the mind.
“If you perform below par things go against you like the [Bukayo] Saka goal. That’s life.”
The ex-Derby County boss admitted earlier in the season that expectations had been raised, but has always insisted that his new-look team made up of expensive signings, academy graduates and the odd experienced head should not yet be considered among the contenders for this season’s league title.
Regardless, a club that was able to sign the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Thiago Silva while the rest of Europe was cutting their cloth according to the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic should not be six points back from the league leaders after just 15 matches.
Liverpool could stretch that gap to nine points with victory over relegation-threatened West Brom on Sunday, with Chelsea already four points worse off at this stage of the campaign compared to Lampard’s first season in charge.
“The teams that win, win, win relentlessly weren’t winning two or three years ago,” Lampard insisted. “We are not there yet, that’s clear. I felt it when we are on our long unbeaten run and I feel it now. We got a lot wrong today.”
Lampard now faces home games against in-form Aston Villa and Manchester City either side of New Year’s Day with a squad that desperately needs revitalising after a chastening fortnight.
Timo Werner has now failed to score in any of his last 10 matches for club or country – his longest such run since he was a Stuttgart player in 2016 – and was hauled off at half-time against Arsenal.
His compatriot Kai Havertz has already been dropped from the starting XI, and Lampard may now have to take a similar decision with his other big-money German signing if his form does not improve.
Hakim Ziyech has shone but has twice had his progress stalled by injury while mistakes have also began to creep into the games of Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy after strong starts to life at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard remains a fan favourite for his playing exploits, but many supporters will begin to question his credentials as a coach if such poor results continue in the coming days.
The former England international has just 18 months left on his contract in west London, and though he has previously admitted that he is open to renewing that deal, there is likely to be increased caution from the club’s end if Lampard’s players do not begin to reflect the money that was spent on the squad.
A chastening defeat at Arsenal does not always spell disaster for a Chelsea manager. Antonio Conte followed up a 3-0 loss at the Emirates Stadium in 2016 with a 13-game winning run that formed the foundations of a title-winning campaign.
Lampard will need a similar sequence now to put the pressure on Liverpool and any other club who threatens a prolonged challenge in the coming months.
If things move in the opposite direction, though, the pressure in the capital may switch from Arteta to his opposite number from Saturday’s clash.
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