Tuesday 21 February 2017

Conte set to be sleepless in Chelsea

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0

Jack De Menezes

Published 26/09/2016 | 02:30

Theo Walcott finds the net for Arsenal’s second goal despite the efforts of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Photo: Reuters
Theo Walcott finds the net for Arsenal’s second goal despite the efforts of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Photo: Reuters

Chelsea's heavy defeat at the hands of rivals Arsenal will keep Antonio Conte up at night, such was the lesson his team received at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday in a rare yet worrying display of inept defending from his entire side.

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The Italian's angry half-time team talk did little to stem the flow of constant Arsenal attacks in the second half, and Chelsea were in a way lucky to escape the Emirates having conceded only three goals. Arsenal have experienced much worse in recent years when playing at the same level as Chelsea did, but that is no consolation for Conte.

Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides third goal. Photo: Getty
Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides third goal. Photo: Getty

"I don't sleep, sure. I don't sleep," said Conte, having seen Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil all score to consign him to a second consecutive defeat in the Premier League. "This is normal. After this game, this defeat, it's normal for me not to sleep. Not only tonight, but for two nights. When I don't sleep, I reflect. And it's important to reflect."

It was Gary Cahill who was at fault for Sanchez's opener, his woefully underhit backpass to Thibaut Courtois laying the ball on a plate for the Chilean to dribble through on goal and chip over the goalkeeper. But his performance on the whole will be of great concern to Conte, with the England international showing no cohesion whatsoever with centre-back partner David Luiz and Courtois.

During the second half, Cahill urged Courtois to collect the ball from his feet. The Belgian refused, Cahill dallied and Sanchez steamed in to block the resulting clearance that nearly led to a fourth Arsenal goal. Cahill responded by launching an angry verbal attack on Courtois, but it was a sign of frustration at his own performance as much as it was with those around him.

Conte would not single out players, despite the obvious concerns. "I don't want to talk about defenders, midfielders or strikers," he said. "Because I think we lose and we win as a team. We must continue to think in the same way always, it is important. Today we understood - me first, then the players - that this league is very tough."

Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Getty
Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Getty

The Italian's reputation - one that sees him dish out the tongue-lashings more often than comforting arms around shoulders - ensured that the visitors' dressing room was not a nice place to be in at half-time. But Conte insisted that, for now, that conversation will remain private.

Read more: Antonio Conte blames previous managers for Chelsea's defensive frailties

"Yes," he said when asked if he was angry, "but I prefer to keep my words, because it's right when I talk with my players, to keep what I tell them. This is normal. Because there are rules in the dressing room, and you must respect this. Sure I was angry, but my players were also angry. Because we weren't satisfied with our game."

Dissatisfaction

That dissatisfaction was echoed in stand-in captain Branislav Ivanovic's comments, in which he admitted that the players didn't believe in Conte's plan from the opening whistle.

Diego Costa shows his frustration. Photo: Getty
Diego Costa shows his frustration. Photo: Getty

"We didn't start the game in the way we wanted," Ivanovic said, having led the side in John Terry's absence. "We didn't believe in what we were doing at the beginning and we were punished.

"We have to be honest with ourselves and put more attention on the small details. We have to be more focused and concentrated on the game."

What should be a simple trip to Hull next weekend now becomes a pivotal fixture for Conte. Sure, he doesn't have the defensive targets he asked for, but this side is good enough - on paper - to easily beat a Hull side who still have no permanent manager and have leaked four goals in their last two league matches. Fail to beat the Tigers, and Conte will face unwelcome questions from one Roman Abramovich. (© Independent News Service)

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