Arsenal show why Chelsea must go on transfer spending spree

james olley
Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Chelsea were reinvigorated by youth at the start of the season. The case for fresh impetus from elsewhere is now more compelling than ever.

There was a school of thought prior to the Court of Arbitration for Sport reducing the club’s transfer ban on appeal in early December that suggested buying this month could potentially stifle the progress of a crop of gifted youngsters who have put Chelsea firmly in the hunt for a top-four spot.

That class has been dismissed, not because this group have been conclusively found out, but more that their shortcomings are being exposed in an all-too-familiar fashion.

There is nothing new about Chelsea dropping points at home. The irony of David Luiz’s 26th-minute dismissal was that it forced the Gunners to adopt a contain-and-counter-attack approach which has caused the Blues problems time and again this season.

The more of the ball they have, the less they seem to know what to do with it, even with one man extra to pass it to.

Christian Pulisic is missed on nights like this, but even with the US international available, Chelsea have repeatedly failed to finish teams off when dominating or defend with the requisite maturity to preserve slender leads.

They were a goal and a player up once Jorginho dispatched the spot-kick awarded for Luiz’s desperate foul — the product of another one for Shkodran Mustafi’s bloopers reel — but allowed Arsenal reward for their admirable endeavour.

Gabriel Martinelli carried the fight remarkably for one so young and inexperienced. The 18-year-old was a constant threat, but how did Chelsea allow themselves to be counter ­attacked so readily from their own corner? N’Golo Kante’s slip was unfortunate, Martinelli’s finish sublime.

The final 10 minutes were ludicrous, even by Chelsea’s standards. Perhaps the game-management issue runs deeper than first thought.

Skipper Cesar Azpilicueta should have won it for the home side when he steered an 84th-minute shot past Bernd Leno to restore Chelsea’s lead but minutes later, with Tammy Abraham down injured, Arsenal played on, much to Lampard’s chagrin on the touchline.

And yet, when Chelsea won the ball back twice — yes, twice! — they did not kick it out either. Instead, they gifted back possession which afforded Hector Bellerin the chance to curl home an 87th-minute equaliser.

Abraham will be assessed after suffering a swollen ankle. He left the stadium unaided and without a protective boot but limping heavily.

The first-half opportunity he missed was not a howler but still one he would have expected to convert, further evidence of the work still ahead of this hugely promising 22-year-old in becoming an elite-level number nine.

Injury blow: Chelsea will assess Tammy Abraham's knock on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)

Abraham has exceeded all expectations this season, yet he has regularly comprised one-third of a forward line that Lampard has frequently lamented for wasting too many opportunities.

That cost looks even greater when Chelsea go through frequent spells struggling to break down opponents, something Mason Mount and Ross Barkley both helped them overcome when the Blues were making more unchecked headway earlier in the campaign. These days, the 39 games Mount has played for club and country look to be catching up with him, while Barkley finds himself seeking opportunities to prove off-field problems will not define his year.

At the back, Fikayo Tomori was the biggest surprise newcomer of all, offsetting Antonio Rudiger’s absence in forging a promising partnership with Kurt Zouma which kept out Ajax in Amsterdam no less. More recently, he has started just four of the last 12 games in all competitions and increasingly appears the fall-guy for Rudiger’s return.

Abraham, Mount, Tomori and, to a lesser extent, Barkley, were spearheading Chelsea’s regeneration, but the necessity to deliver each and every week is a huge burden to bear at a club of this size. Callum Hudson-Odoi was much better on Tuesday, but he is yet to hit previous heights, too.

Some credit, of course, must go to Arteta and Arsenal. The Spaniard arrived here determined to succeed by ensuring Arsenal imposed his style on Chelsea but, in the end, Arteta probably took more pride in an unexpectedly resilient defensive display in difficult circumstances; a makeshift back four of Bellerin, Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Bukayo Saka somehow stood firm for the most part.

Lampard would, no doubt, argue the result was a product of Chelsea’s failings. The 41-year-old has made no secret of wanting to bolster his attacking options this month, even though January is a notoriously difficult market in which to acquire the right long-term targets.

Edinson Cavani makes short-term appeal from Paris Saint-Germain, but the Uruguay striker signing would come at a high financial price and therefore demand, aged 33, that he plays every week.

Abraham needs genuine competition, but Chelsea remain determined not to panic buy at the end of the window as they have done in the past, mindful of not abandoning youth, having finally given the academy graduates a chance by circumstance as much as design. More nights like this, though, will test that resolve.

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