Roberto Di Matteo has taken Chelsea back to basics. With his only previous Premier League management experience being his time as the manager of West Brom, he knows what it means to be in the results business.
When you get a team promoted from the Championship to the top flight, it’s often all about getting the best out of limited players, or playing to the strengths of the players you have; you can’t go out and get the best players in the country. In a sense that’s not so dissimilar to his current spell at Chelsea, despite them being a much bigger name.
What was clear under Andre Villas-Boas was that he could not make his mark on the old guard. Still pining for Mourinho, Chelsea were not suited to the high-line attacking football AVB wanted to play. The spine of the team, players like Drogba, Lampard and Terry, have found their most successful spells of their career playing functional, defensive and – let’s face it – boring football. It is in their DNA, and while they are still at the club, it will be difficult for them to change.
In that sense, Di Matteo suits them perfectly right now, as the results have shown. They got a 0-0 draw against us today to keep themselves in the race for 4th. They didn’t even play their strongest team, which was partly down to injuries (Drogba) and suspensions (Ivanovic), but largely down to leading Barcelona 1-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-final. Who could have seen that coming when they comically leaked five goals to us at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season?
I’ve said it so many times and I have to say it again: MANAGERS MAKE TEAMS. This is the same set of players that AVB had, but now they know how to defend again. The likes of Terry and Cech didn’t suddenly become bad players under the former Porto boss, but sometimes the chemistry isn’t right. Or sometimes managers aren’t as good at certain areas of the game.
This will lead me, as ever, to Arsene Wenger. A draw with Chelsea today wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the terrible result against Wigan earlier in the week. Even in a good spell, we have conceded some ridiculous goals, none worse than the two to Wigan. People will look at the defence and the goalkeeper, but who signs these players and coaches these players? Whose system are they playing to?
Wenger, unlike Di Matteo, is not in the results business. He has his own agenda: firstly, to save money by signing youngsters or players past their peak who no one wants; and secondly, to play attractive football.
Don’t get me wrong – Wenger has done a brilliant job to get us even thinking about 3rd place this season and I applaud him for that. However, I would still question whether he should stay another year, because I honestly don’t see us progressing under him, and by that I mean actually winning trophies. There will always be a few too many games like the one on Monday night, where we gift goals to poor teams and struggle to break them down through a lack of variation. After pulling a goal back through a Vermaelen header from a Rosicky cross, we didn’t try crossing the ball aerially again – why not?
Putting Di Matteo in charge seemed absurd at first. Fans were calling out for a bigger name and more experience; if AVB wasn’t that then RDM certainly wasn’t, but sometimes bringing back someone who has a connection with the club can be a masterstroke, and so it has proved for Chelsea. Sure, they might still be 6th and they’re hardly blowing teams away, but there is a difference in Chelsea now that could easily see them rise above Spurs, Newcastle and maybe even us. They’re also likely to win the FA Cup, and in a good position to reach the Champions League final.
Arsenal need a simpler approach. They need to be in the results business again. Would promoting someone like Steve Bould to manager be so crazy? It’s risky, of course, but the man has worked under both George Graham and Arsene Wenger and was part of one of the best defences in the history of English football. As well as that, he would have the pressure of the axe hanging over his head, unlike the luxury position that Wenger holds where he can be seen to do no wrong. Which do you think is healthier?
I’m not saying, like I have before, that Wenger has to be sacked immediately, but the time will eventually come and it might be soon. When the time does come, I think there’s something to be learned from looking at the current situation at Chelsea. The much under-hyped former employee has done the business there, and made a real difference in a very short time. And it just screams out as something Arsenal need.