Arsenal were excellent as they climbed atop the Premier League table once more, but Chelsea were terrible and Frank Lampard is a managerial embarrassment.
1) “The first half we gave ourselves too much to do, we were very poor. You can’t lack energy and desire in the Premier League and we did. You can prepare as well as you want but if you turn up like that that’s another thing. It’s in the mind.
“I am very, very disappointed in the way we approached the first half because some things in football are basics. It is not tactics or systems, it is do you want to run, back your teammate out and sprint? Or do you want to jog and say ‘maybe I don’t have to run’ and we took that decision instead of the right one.”
Those were Frank Lampard’s views on a crushing defeat for Chelsea at Arsenal, but on Boxing Day 2020 instead of May 2023. It was a result for which he assumed “responsibility on the outside” before absolving himself of blame because “the message was clear – Arsenal are a dangerous team”.
He was sacked within the month and those “lazy” Blues went on to win the Champions League – a coincidental by product of the appointment of an actual coach in Thomas Tuchel.
Two and a half years later, almost nothing has changed. A stuttering Arsenal side cruised to a morale-boosting victory at the Emirates on the back of a scintillating first half. The scoreline was the exact same, 3-1 thoroughly flattering the visitors. Chelsea were summarily lacking in focus, concentration and effort but also direction, instruction and expertise, improving slightly in the second half. Lampard will question their attitude and effort a thousand times before contemplating whether his approach and set-up was the problem. He will be out of work in a matter of weeks and Mauricio Pochettino – if he still fancies it – will do an excellent job which is made to look phenomenal by the rank inadequacies of his predecessor.
It is almost impressive the extent to which Lampard has become a demonstrably worse manager with time and experience. Ten consecutive defeats and one win in 20 games is pathetic for a coach of his repute. A remarkable – and as yet not obviously available – level of introspection, or an exceptionally dense chairman will be required to ensure this is not the last Premier League post of his career.
2) One can only assume Frank Lampard will condemn his players for failing to carry out The Basics, but at some stage Frank Lampard might need to figure out why Frank Lampard’s teams so consistently fail to carry out The Basics.
And yes, that line was written about two hours before Frank Lampard claimed that “we have to do the basics better then we’ll get progress,” as the battle between Frank Lampard and The Basics continues.
He will have plenty of time to deduce the common denominator soon enough, but at some stage those sycophantic cheerleaders who pretend his fabled knowledge of the club or stunning playing career is an adequate substitute for actual ability and aptitude need to stop blowing smoke up arses. They have been actively detrimental to the career of a coach promoted well beyond his station and if there is to be a future for Lampard in this industry then some home truths must replace the tiresome bluster.
3) The selection of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang neatly encapsulated the vibes-led approach of Lampard: picking a 33-year-old striker who had not started a single Chelsea game since the reverse of this fixture in November, nor scored in his last 17 appearances dating back to October, purely because players sometimes thrive against their former clubs, was more mood than management.
Aubameyang had nine touches, four of which were kick-offs, and Chelsea only scored after he was taken off at half-time. It was disastrous.
4) Shortly before Chelsea’s consolation goal came a moment which summed up the game. N’Golo Kante embarked on a counter-attack from an Arsenal corner, leading Kai Havertz, Noni Madueke and Raheem Sterling on a charge against two defenders. It soon came to nothing – an aimless pass was blocked by Jorginho – but even as Chelsea embarked on a move with twice as many players as the opposition, there was no tension, anxiety or panic in the team or crowd.
Arsenal were winning 3-0 at that stage but after a month in which they have blown a pair of two-goal leads and drawn 3-3 with Southampton before Manchester City completed the title turnaround, this should have been a vulnerable, agitated, unnerved side. The Emirates being silent was long used as a stick with which to beat Arsenal yet the complete lack of reaction to an ostensibly threatening situation spoke volumes of their confidence and comfort.
5) Mikel Arteta will have been pleased at the response his changes elicited. Whether tactical stubbornness was a factor in Arsenal’s recent slump cannot be declared for certain but his selections inevitably became a point of contention as results started to slide.
Jakub Kiwior, Jorginho and Leandro Trossard came into the starting line-up and each were an upgrade on those they replaced. “We have to change things,” Arteta said before the game. “We have to shake it up, we have to give other people opportunities that they fully deserve, and today was the day to that in my opinion.” Those decisions and the Spaniard’s overall gameplan were wholly vindicated.
6) Some will subsequently ask why Arteta waited so long to make alterations to his side, why the title had to slip from their grasp before he tried something different. ‘It was clearly broken and he ought to have fixed it,’ the argument goes. A more proactive stance could have kept them ahead of Manchester City, instead of the reactive management which squandered that advantage. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and personnel issues were not the main reason behind that April stumble; that was more down to a reluctance to change tactics to suit in-game situations and a certain degree of cockiness and complacency.
Plus a midweek stroll with less pressure at home to a dreadful mid-table side was an easier environment into which players could be introduced than games with no margin for error. Kiwior looked dominant but Rob Holding might well have thrived when marking nothing but the concept of space.
7) After about 10 minutes, and with the unforeseen one-on-one battle between Granit Xhaka and Wesley Fofana unfolding in favour of the former, the latter thwarted a promising run by sliding in to put the ball out for a corner.
Xhaka had set a rousing example from the start, his searching runs from midfield exploiting many a gap in the Chelsea defence. After that intervention, Fofana was seen visibly requesting better communication from those ahead of him who were allowing Xhaka to roam completely unchecked. The call was not heeded.
8) Within half an hour, Xhaka had twice investigated those spaces to devastating effect. Under absolutely no pressure for the first goal, his low ball to Martin Odegaard on the edge of the area was as excellent and precise as the finish that followed. Then after fine link-up play with Trossard and Gabriel Jesus, Xhaka produced another low cross with no Chelsea player within five yards of him for Odegaard to sweep past Kepa.
Xhaka’s contribution to the third goal was a little more fortuitous but he continues to grow admirably into this more attacking role. The footwork to nutmeg Fofana before forcing a fine second-half save from Kepa completed the one-sided tussle between £70m centre-half and previously ostracised, limited midfielder who should be improved upon in the summer transfer window.
9) Odegaard’s final touches to both those moves were sublime, taking the fullest possible advantage of some risible defending.
For the first goal, Mateo Kovacic glanced at the Arsenal captain and acknowledged the threat while jogging back to defend, yet still contrived to do nothing about it. Cesar Azpilicueta was late in getting out to Xhaka and Enzo Fernandez inexplicably stepped over the ball to dummy himself.
For the second goal, Sterling showed all the awareness of a forward being asked to play as a defensive midfielder as he allowed Odegaard to ghost unabated towards the penalty spot and score. Azpilicueta again afforded Xhaka time and space with which to cross.
Chelsea had seven defenders in their own area for both goals, yet the numbers only added to the overwhelming sense of disorganisation and chaos. This is a team with no defensive structure or guidance, as evidenced by the frantic scramble to prevent Gabriel Jesus from making it 3-0 shortly thereafter. Fofana’s plea for communication was, ironically enough, never listened to.
10) The crumb of positivity in Chelsea’s latest shit sandwich was Madueke, who was bright throughout. No player completed more dribbles for either side than the 21-year-old, who often seemed to comprise the visitors’ entire attacking plan.
One run at 2-0 down saw Madueke advance as far as the edge of the area before cutting the ball back for Jorginho to intercept, the support from Chelsea players conspicuous by its absence. His goal from a delightful Kovacic pass was just reward after a difficult, tireless evening, but also the only occasion on which a teammate managed to access that same wavelength and help him.
11) That was not the first time Oleksandr Zinchenko has been flat-footed, unaware and slow to react to an attack in his zone. The Ukraine international settled into the game after some early misplaced passes but the failure to track Madueke was the latest lapse from a player increasingly prone to them when asked to defend.
12) Aaron Ramsdale has subsequently not kept a clean sheet since mid-March, a run of seven games in which either a momentary lapse in concentration or a collective and prolonged leave of senses has undermined a resounding win or been the foundation to catastrophe.
The Arsenal keeper’s save from Ben Chilwell was vital in the first half, coming as it did when Arsenal only led by a single goal. Kante’s excellent ball found the Chelsea left-back who beat Bukayo Saka but not Ramsdale, who stood firm and kept the Gunners in the ascendancy when an equaliser at that time could have had a devastating effect.
What a 1v1 save from #Ramsdale!
I loved his decision making
He was correctly high & ready to sweep but once #Chilwell got in he backed off into his 6yrd box & maximised the finish difficulty
— John Harrison (@Jhdharrison1) May 2, 2023
13) In the two minutes before Arsenal doubled their lead, there were flashes of sensational play from the hosts. When one Madueke cross was blocked by Zinchenko, the ball was dug out from the corner by Trossard to Gabriel Jesus, on the halfway line and surrounded by blue shirts with no teammate within 20 yards. The Arsenal forward brought the ball down with a crisp first touch and won the free-kick from Fofana, instantly reaffirming control.
Soon after, it was Trossard and Gabriel Jesus combining again when the former released the latter down the left-hand side with a quite stunning reverse pass.
This was not Trossard’s finest game, as a substitution after 58 minutes might suggest, but some of his interplay was delightful. It does not feel like a coincidence that Arsenal have won the seven Premier League matches he has started this season, nor that they went three without a win in February and four without a win in April while he was on the bench.
14) Mykhaylo Mudryk being booed while coming on as a second-half substitution and routinely enough thereafter was fun but jeering Gonzalo Higuain during a friendly for the same perceived sin of being linked with but not joining Arsenal will never be beaten.
15) Arteta leaving Gabriel on long after it had become clear the centre-half was struggling with some sort of issue was as weird as Chelsea’s reticence to try and target that area. After accusations were made that the Spaniard relied on Holding for at least a game too many recently, restricting him to the bench until the 85th minute despite an apparent injury to his remaining central defensive starter was a curious decision.
Whether the problem was exacerbated by being made to continue, Gabriel is doubtful for the trip to Newcastle when Arsenal need him most. It was an unnecessary risk to take when Arteta himself could likely have handled the weight of Chelsea’s attack at that point.
16) There it is then: Lampard rejecting culpability after presiding over a laughable Chelsea performance in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates.
He claimed credit for the second-half improvement, of course: “Maybe there were some things I said at half-time, which to be fair I had said before the game. We got the basics a bit better and we had more of a dynamic nature about us, and we created a couple of decent chances and scored a goal from it.” And that was obviously nothing to do with Arsenal taking the foot off the gas and Chelsea’s neck at 3-0 up.
But this was on the players for being “passive” and “too nice to play against”, things that don’t “change overnight”.
Why, then, is Lampard there? For what possible reason did Chelsea appoint him and exactly how did he come to the conclusion that he should accept the offer? With his lack of ‘a magic wand’ well-publicised and lamented by this point, what did he hope to achieve in these interim weeks when he could have sent a cardboard cut-out to deliver no worse results? They are ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference, only nine points clear of a relegation zone they remain in theoretical reaching distance of. Lampard will be spared the ultimate embarrassment by time and the incompetence of those below but if he had taken over any earlier Chelsea would be in legitimate trouble; they are the only team without a Premier League point since his appointment on April 6.
The players will and should be hammered for their part in this but Lampard has been the worst of four Chelsea managers in a season when one of them presided over a single game. He has been the worst manager of a Premier League season in which about 427 have been appointed; Bruno Saltor has more points, Aaron Danks has more goals and Michael Skubala, Paddy McCarthy, Mike Stowell and Adam Sadler conceded as many times in as many games.
Lampard is kidding no-one. Thomas Tuchel was unjustly dispensed with, Graham Potter is looking better by the week and the bar is being lowered into the ground for Pochettino. There was a time when Lampard and Arteta were involved in the same conversations but the former has been reduced to a babbling wreck while everyone talks over him.