Pundits claimed the victory showed the vast class difference between Chelsea and their north London rivals. The backlash saw the press revealing Arsenal’s title ambitions had reached their conclusion after an eleven point lead had emerged between the two. However Arsenal have won four games since this point and now lie seven points adrift with two games in hand and would be expected to close the gap to a mere point.
Despite this severe drop in form, (winning just twice with unconvincing victories over Portsmouth and Fulham) Carlo Ancelotti sees no reason to delve into the January transfer window. With strike trio Didier Drogba, Soloman Kalou and Nicolas Anelka unavailable is it viable for sole responsibility to lay in the hands teenagers Daniel Sturridge and Fabio Borini to rescue the club from a despairing drop in form? Make no mistake, leading the Premier League title chase at Christmas does not scream a need for purchases, but with an ageing squad, looming transfer ban, and lack of goal-scoring prowess surely Ancelotti will be under strong scrutiny if his gamble fails to deliver. Unlike clubs of a lower stature struggling with departures and injuries, Chelsea do have the funds to aid their own fate.
Michael Ballack and Flourent Malouda in particular have struggled to cope with the cold, icy pitches and arctic English winter in recent weeks. Yet Yury Zhirkov, a Russian competent in such conditions has barely graced the English turf since his arrival on the London stage. With experienced players at Ancelotti’s disposal, surely these should take precedence over nurturing the youth team when a Premier League title is on the line.
This is not to say the promise of the youth infrastructure is to be abandoned in its entirety but such prospects should be given their opportunities to familiarise themselves with the first team in the League Cup or after victory is confirmed. It’s no coincidence that Arsenal are able to bring through so many players into their ranks as the hot prospects are well prepared for the first team when an opportunity does arise.
Signings need not to necessarily be the likes of Sergio Aguero, but certainly adequate cover for Drogba or Anelka is required. This is not just due to the current situation, but if Ancelotti is to employ two strikers upfront, a third striker should be of a higher calibre than that of the inexperienced Sturridge and Borini or erratic finisher Kalou. A run-in of Watford, Hull, Sunderland, Burnley, and Birmingham will not be a string of standardised three-pointers for the Blues as recent form has shown. If Chelsea are to press for glory, these are fundamental games in their challenge, dropping points here will fail to go unpunished.
A surging Arsenal, Manchester United and even the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham are all beginning to pick up title winning form. Chelsea cannot simply look over their shoulders in hope others display the form they have shown in recent outings. They must look forth and prey on those hoping rather than expecting points.
The forgiving Ancelotti must become more ruthless in his tactics and this was shown in the recent derby. Not for the first time this season the compact diamond was combated effectively by Chelsea opposition, the blue tactician for the first time however scrapped the system to great applaud. Installing a 4-3-3 in the later stages with Zhirkov and Kalou pressing on the wings Chelsea were able to overwhelm the Fulham defence and with wide outlets the blues created targets away from the easily picked up front two. The Italian has also been self-assured with his substitutions, bringing off Frank Lampard after a poor display. The England midfielder has struggled to adapt with the new system although well publicised off the field events are sure to have had their effect on the usually consistent performer.
The Blues must now react with the helm of Stamford lying on the shoulders of Sturridge and Borini, the first team hopefuls must step up to the big stage and inspire the side with their raw passion. Whether Anceolotti opts to evaluate his options in the market or not this is a pivotal stage in the Chelsea camp. Their lead at the top is under high pressure from the chasing pack and the Blues must deal with the pressure their financial status entails.