Back your manager, recruit smart & trust the youth - Six lessons Chelsea can learn from Arsenal as Blues begin massive rebuild
At the beginning of the season, Arsenal vs Chelsea would've been pegged as a potentially-decisive game in the race for Champions League qualification. Instead, on Tuesday, the mid-table Blues will be looking to snap an eight-game winless run to move back ahead of Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace into 11th. Arsenal, in stark contrast, are aiming to keep their Premier League title hopes alive with a victory.
Going into the game, these London rivals are separated by an astounding 36 points, a consequence of their contrasting decision making on and off the pitch over the past 12 months.
Chelsea have now slumped to their lowest point since Roman Abramovich's takeover propelled them into the European football elite in 2003.
Arsenal have experienced similar lows in the not-so-distant past though, and their resurgence this season provides hope for Blues supporters who are struggling to envisage the club ever replicating their former glories.
During a time of pensive reflection at Stamford Bridge, GOAL asks what Chelsea can learn from their neighbours' success...
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Trust your manager
Arsenal fans used to be ridiculed for 'trusting the process' when it came to Mikel Arteta, but rival fans are certainly not laughing now.
While the Spaniard endured some hairy moments during the early part of his Gunners spell, his appointment in 2019 has - in the long-term - proved to be a masterstroke. For the first time since Arsene Wenger left, Arsenal have a distinctive style of play that is the envy of many in the Premier League.
Chelsea appeared to be following this example when they appointed the young and exciting Graham Potter on a five-year contract in September 2022. For years, the trigger-happy Abramovich had fired coaches at will, sometimes for the most modest of failings. Potter was supposed to be different - a holistic on-pitch leader to drive forward Todd Boehly's youthful revolution.
In the end though, he lasted just 31 games. Hamstrung by a truly bonkers recruitment strategy - more on that later - he departed with the lowest points-per-game return of any Blues manager in history.
Had he been supported, who knows? Perhaps Chelsea would've been tasting some of Arsenal's recent success in a few seasons time.
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Recruit smart, not big
It's hard to think of two top-level clubs whose recruitment strategies have contrasted more than Arsenal and Chelsea in recent times.
The latter have been a model for transfer chaos, splurging over £600 million ($752.2m) over the past two transfer windows and still ending up with a wildly uneven, bloated squad. This is evidenced by the fact that only fellow transfer market churners Nottingham Forest have used more players in the Premier League this season.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have one of the most efficiently-built squads in the division. Only three Premier League sides - West Ham, Brentford and Manchester City - have deployed fewer players than them this term.
By operating with a trim squad, every player who comes into the starting XI knows exactly what is expected of them in the system. We saw this in action when Gabriel Jesus was injured at the World Cup, with Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard slotting in seamlessly.
It is not just in squad size that Chelsea can take lessons from north London either. Arsenal have also bought a lot 'smarter' than the Blues since Boehly's takeover.
The sensible pick ups of the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko, Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale may not have attracted as many headlines - or cost as much - as Chelsea's various recent high-profile signings, but they have proved to be perfect fits at the Emirates Stadium.
Advocating for Chelsea to rein themselves in during the transfer window might well be akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but moving forwards, its something the Blues need to do if they are to return to being Champions League regulars.
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It doesn't take long to get fans back on side
For years, Arsenal were criticised for an apparently lacklustre atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium.
While the Gunners have always travelled loudly and in numbers, there was always some truth in the accusations that their new home often lacked that big-game feeling. This is not a charge that can be levelled at the Arsenal faithful this season.
The atmosphere at home games has been electric all year long, with the fiery rendition of their new pre-match anthem, North London Forever, typifying their resurgent spirit. This has had on-field advantages too, with the Gunners support roaring the players on to a goosebump-inducing comeback against Bournemouth this season that ranked as one of the greatest days in Emirates history.
Chelsea can only dream of this sort of atmosphere at Stamford Bridge currently. Boos have understandably echoed around the stadium at recent matchdays, with Real Madrid's visit the only occasion that has properly sparked match-goers back to life.
Loud boos echo around Stamford Bridge as the half-time whistle goes.— Matt O'Connor-Simpson (@matthewOCS) April 26, 2023
Can't blame them, that was absolutely shocking once again.#CHEBRE
Having a flat atmosphere at home is a common problem in the modern game, but Arsenal's ability to rediscover that connection between fans and players this season shows that Chelsea may be able to turn it around quickly.
There is clear frustration with the board in west London right now. But if whoever takes over in the summer can get the players playing for the badge again, the intimidating Stamford Bridge of old could be back sooner rather than later.
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Maybe Chelsea don't need a 20-goal striker
The solution currently being touted to solve all of Chelsea's problems is them signing a 'natural number nine'.
Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen are thought to be at the top of their wishlist this summer, providing they can stave off the threat of Financial Fair Play penalties following two obscene transfer windows on the spin.
A quick look across the capital might suggest that they don't even need a super prolific centre-forward to kick on next season. Jesus, who has led the line for the Gunners for the majority of the season, has an impressive but not spectacular nine Premier League goals to his name.
His worth to Arsenal is far more complex than simply scoring, with his ability to facilitate, press and create allowing Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli to thrive either side of him.
Surely, one of the 101 forwards Chelsea have at their disposal is capable of playing a similar role next season if their wish of signing a free-scoring frontman doesn't come true?
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Trust in the youth
Speaking of Martinelli and Saka, their success has been a direct result of Arteta's willingness to trust in the young players he has at his disposal.
Their fearlessness in the final third has been one of the key ingredients in the Gunners' success this season, with the pair notching a combined 28 goals and 16 assists in the Premier League - becoming the first top-flight duo aged under 21 to register 20+ goal involvements each in a single campaign since Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United.
They are not the only young guns that have been impressing either, with Arsenal's squad possessing the joint-youngest average age in the Premier League this term, alongside Southampton.
For all of the criticism Chelsea's transfer approach has received, at least the vast majority of their signings have time on their side, with the Blues recruiting young over the past two windows.
Now, Chelsea must follow Arsenal's model of giving these younger players the time that they need to develop into Premier League stars.
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Use no European football to your advantage
Chelsea are not going to be involved in any sort of European football next season - that much is certain. Obviously, this is a major blow for a club of their size, especially financially.
All they can do now is try and spin it positively, as Arsenal came very close to doing during the 2021-22 campaign.
In the end, a late collapse saw the Gunners miss out on a top-four finish to local rivals Tottenham. It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time, particularly as it came off the back of successive eight-placed Premier League finishes.
Retrospectively though, if we are being kind, these drought years can be viewed as vital in the process of transforming the Gunners into genuine title contenders.
Away from the tiring and pressure-filled world of continental football, Arsenal were able to fully get their house in order - a process that had been sorely needed for some time. Young players were bedded in and more time was spent on the training ground ingesting Arteta's ideas, processes that left them able to properly challenge Manchester City this season.
It was a painful time, and Chelsea might have to prepare themselves for a similar level of suffering if they wish to return to the summit of English football.
The Blues are arguably in an even more confused state than when Arteta took over, and the absence of midweek distractions to might well be a welcome bonus as they prepare for a monumental rebuild this summer.