What next for Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino? Arsenal humiliation exposes a crisis from top to bottom

As a former Arsenal player, Mikel Arteta could sympathise with Mauricio Pochettino as they shared the touchline at the Emirates. Arteta was in the Arsenal side that lost 6-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2014, as Jose Mourinho took considerable pleasure in ruining Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge by handing out Chelsea’s biggest ever win over their London rivals. How times change. Now as a manager, Arteta admitted he had “all the sympathy in the world” for Pochettino after he inflicted Arsenal’s biggest ever win over Chelsea. “I’ve been on the other side as well,” Arteta said. “He’s doing a great job.”

It didn’t look like it on the pitch on Wednesday night, but Arteta recognised Pochettino’s plight and understood the questions that were about to come his way as Chelsea collapsed against the Premier League leaders. After Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City ruled out any chance of winning silverware in his first campaign in charge, a humiliating night was a blow for Pochettino’s hopes of qualifying for Europe next season.

The manner of it still felt more significant than that. Chelsea are ninth and another defensive disaster took their goals conceded to 57, their most ever in a Premier League season, and with six games still to play. Their capitulation was the latest indictment of a squad that is short of characters and a recruitment strategy that lacks any sense. All of which comes after £1bn spent.

Pochettino’s side were humbled by Arteta’s title challengers (Action Images/Reuters)
Pochettino’s side were humbled by Arteta’s title challengers (Action Images/Reuters)

How’s that going? Never before in football has so much been spent for such a meagre return. Chelsea have gambled exorbitant transfer fees on largely unproven potential in a bid to beat the market. But in tying those players down to long-term contracts, Chelsea have restricted themselves within the Premier League’s PSR regulations, reaching the point where they can no longer push their hand as freely or as boldly. Chelsea are stuck with their lot; the new ownership of Todd Boehley and Behdad Eghbali have invested too much to turn back now, and must instead double down by committing to the process. Chelsea’s bets have to come good. Does that count as a plan?

Pochettino is the spokesperson of the process, yet does not sound convinced that it is a good one. Although he was missing key players in Cole Palmer and Malo Gusto, two of the summer buys to have come good, the 5-0 defeat suggested the Chelsea manager still does not have what is required to bridge the gap to the top four, let alone to Arsenal and the top of the Premier League table.

“There are too many reasons why this happens. That’s what we need to explain to the club for the future,” Pochettino said. “The club is building a new project, a new way to operate and of course always that is a risk you need to take when you build a young squad that sometimes with all the circumstances that we are living are not helping us be competitive or be better or consistent.”

Injuries have played a part in Chelsea’s season but the inconsistency of results and performances has been put down to their youth and inexperience. “When we have bad days, we are so bad,” Pochettino said, bluntly. “Then when we are good we are capable of things. That’s something we need to be aware of for the future.”

Yet Pochettino did not blame his players. Pochettino may have let slip in one interview that his team “gave up” after going 3-0 down after half-time, criticising the manner in which they conceded early in both halves, but refused to go stronger. “We are unhappy but we cannot be unfair,” he said.

Chelsea again lacked leadership or authority on the pitch (Reuters)
Chelsea again lacked leadership or authority on the pitch (Reuters)

There is, of course, logic to Pochettino and Chelsea playing the long game. Would he get another major job at a top European club if he departed Chelsea now, on the back of being fired by Paris Saint-Germain after just 18 months? There are set to be plenty of vacancies this summer, but Pochettino could be seen as yesterday’s man. He needs this project to go right as much as Chelsea do.

As for them, with so many other big roles set to be available across Europe, who is choosing to take charge of such an imperfect squad, one that is so expensively assembled that it leaves such little room to work with. Chelsea know that Pochettino isn’t the biggest problem they have to manage.

That goes from the top all the way to down to a series of emojis. As Thiago Silva prepared to come on as a late substitute at Arsenal, with Chelsea five goals down, the 39-year-old’s wife fired off her latest social media post at the expense of the Blues. It comes less than two months after Belle Silva apologised for appearing to call for Pochettino to be sacked following the 4-1 defeat at Wolves.

It hardly signals a harmonious dressing room, which just last week managed to sour their best win of the season by falling out over a penalty. Now, after exiting the FA Cup and this latest public embarrassment, Pochettino will attempt to encourage his team through its latest crisis of confidence. For Chelsea, there isn’t much else they can do now.