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LONDON -- If the first rule of football management is that you should never criticise your players in public, Maurizio Sarri broke it in spectacular style by condemning his Chelsea team after Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

This was the day when Sarri took a leaf out of Jose Mourinho's book by pointing the finger of blame at those on the pitch rather than the tactics they had been told to employ, and only time will tell whether it was a bold move or the first sign of his inability to succeed as manager at Stamford Bridge.

It was a game when Chelsea could only muster one shot on target and was perhaps the day when all of the flaws that have been exposed recently finally combined to cost the team against a direct rival for Champions League qualification.

But while many of the faults seem to lie at Sarri's door, his frustrations boiled over after defeat at the Emirates Stadium with a postmatch dismantling of players he suggested are unable to motivate themselves for encounters with top-six rivals.

"It seems we really struggle to get ourselves up for these games," said Sarri, who spoke in Italian at times through an interpreter. "I'm really angry about the approach that we adopted today. You can find yourself in difficulties from time to time, but we need to react to those difficulties a lot better than we did today. It was the same in our game against Tottenham [lost 3-1]. We thought we'd overcome that problem. I don't mind losing, but I don't like losing in this manner."

But while his outburst might deflect attention, the fact is that his approach is not working, and doubts over his credentials at the highest level are increasing. The romantic notion of the Italian bringing 'Sarri-Ball' to the Premier League from Napoli has been jolted by a dose of realism in terms of negative results and underperforming players.

The 60-year-old is in his 19th job as a head coach and has yet to win a major trophy, so he certainly did not fit the usual profile of a Chelsea manager appointed under the Roman Abramovich regime. However, Sarri's philosophy was the clincher for Chelsea's Russian owner, and he was hired to bring flair, goals and eye-catching football.

An 18-game unbeaten start to the season in all competitions hinted at that Utopian vision becoming a reality, but Saturday's defeat was their fifth in the past 16 games, and the manner in which it came suggested the wheels are starting to loosen on the Sarri bandwagon.

In fairness to him, his preferred high-intensity, possession-based game has been almost impossible to impose on this Chelsea squad due to the absence of players capable of making his 4-3-3 system work. The squad Sarri inherited from Antonio Conte had too many ageing players, as well as full-backs who are not quick enough and a lack of combative midfielders.

A top coach, though, can solve problems that come his way and the very best are prepared to look for alternative solutions. Sarri, however, is so stubbornly wedded to his trusted approach that he is in danger of costing Chelsea Champions League qualification.

After half a season, we know that he will stick to his formation, that substitutions will not change the alignment and that Jorginho will play whenever he is fit. Perhaps most damaging of all, we know that he is prepared to deploy Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante -- his two world-class players -- out of position, rather than try a different tactical approach.

Jorginho, who rejected a move to Manchester City in order to follow his manager from Napoli to Chelsea, is beginning to embody Sarri's intransigence. The Italy international is supposed to be the creative hub of the team, but plays everything safe and is too slow to dictate in the Premier League.

Moreover, his position in the team has forced Kante to play on the right side of the midfield three, from where the French international simply cannot make the same impact as he would in front of the defence. In this game, Chelsea had 64 percent of the possession -- a statistic largely down to Jorginho -- but barely did anything with it.

Sarri's loyalty to Jorginho has led to him dislodging Kante from his best position, with Cesc Fabregas sold to Monaco because of his lack of opportunities. Fabregas is no quicker than Jorginho, but is a more attack-minded midfielder and likelier to make a difference in the final third.

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Then there is Hazard, who is a victim of Chelsea's failure to sign a reliable centre-forward over the past 18 months. With Sarri reluctant to trust Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata, the latter of whom is destined for a loan move to Atletico Madrid this month, Hazard has been selected as a false nine and the Belgian international clearly does not enjoy the role.

Against Arsenal, he was on the periphery of the game, so can only hope that the imminent arrival of Gonzalo Higuain from Milan will allow him to return to his favoured position on the left, from where he has shown he can destroy teams.

If Sarri had been prepared to play 4-2-3-1, he could have Kante alongside Jorginho, with Hazard wide and Giroud or Morata leading the line. Instead, he has not given any indication of being willing to try something different. As such, opposition coaches know how to easy it is to nullify this Chelsea team.

That is down to the manager. His predecessors, such as Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, would have devised a way to make best use of their resources, but Sarri is inflexible to the extent that Chelsea are just three points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal and Manchester United in sixth.

The grip on a Champions League spot is slipping; for that to change, Sarri must find a solution to the increasing number of problems that his stubbornness has created.

LONDON -- Maurizio Sarri accused his Chelsea players of being "extremely difficult to motivate" in an astonishing public attack after their limp 2-0 loss against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

First-half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny gave the Gunners a comfortable lead they never looked like relinquishing against a stale Chelsea side who failed to register a shot on target until the 82nd minute.

Taking the unusual decision to conduct his post-match news conference in his native Italian, Sarri insisted his players' mental fragilities were more responsible for Arsenal's win than his tactical approach, likening the situation to their comprehensive 3-1 defeat against Tottenham at Wembley in November.

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"I prefer to speak Italian first of all because I want to send a message to my players, and I want my message to be very clear," Sarri said via translator. "I don't want to make mistakes with my English.

"I have to say that I'm extremely angry, very angry indeed. This defeat was due to our mentality more than anything else, our mental approach. We played against a team which mentally was far more determined than we were. And this is something I can't accept.

"We had a similar issue in the league game at Tottenham. We spoke a great deal about that loss and our approach at the time, and I spoke to the players, and I thought we'd overcome this issue.

"But it appears we still have this issue and we still seem to lack sufficient motivation and being mentally solid and our determination. So I'm not happy, I'm really not happy.

"I'd prefer to come in to the press room, be in the changing room and speak to the players and speak to you now, to talk about the tactics, about why we lost from a tactical point of view, but the fact of the matter is it appears this group of players are extremely difficult to motivate."

Chelsea's defeat means Arsenal and a resurgent Manchester United have both closed to within three points of them in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League this weekend, and Sarri insisted his players must find a way to overcome their psychological problems if they want to succeed.

"A player at this level can't be afraid to face up to their own responsibilities, or coming to talk to the coach about issues that might arise or mistakes that have been made," he added. "If any player were afraid of that, they shouldn't be playing at this level in the first place.

"I think the best thing that can happen is that the players and I talk very openly. We have to talk openly about what's happening. I'm the person responsible for the team, of course.

"So that means we need to discuss the matters, we have to talk about issues, and it's important my players have the attitude I'm asking them to have. If they don't have that, then maybe they shouldn't be playing at this level."

But despite his fierce public criticism of his players, Sarri insisted he has not wavered in his determination to turn the situation around.

Asked if he is the man to revive Chelsea, he replied: "Yes, absolutely. I'm very aware of the fact this [team] is never going to be a team well known for its battling and fighting qualities. From a technical point of view, those aren't the characteristics that we have.

"But what we need to become is a team capable of adapting, a team that can perhaps suffer for 10 to 15 minutes during the game but then play our own football. We didn't play our own football.

"We didn't play our own football in a sense that... for example, our defending ended up with us running backwards rather than pressing high up the pitch. We are a team that should be playing one or two touches, instead at some stages we were playing with seven or eight.

"This is the sort of thing that we don't want to happen. We want to play our own football and we are going to have to try and change that."

Asked in the mixed zone about Chelsea's struggles to create chances against Arsenal, centre-back David Luiz highlighted the need for the entire team to improve, not only the players up front.

"We have to improve and when I speak about improving I speak not only about the forward but the whole team," he said. "The build-up begins with Kepa. We have had a few games in which we have struggled to score goals so we must have the humility to improve and to work more."

LONDON -- First-half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny gave Arsenal a 2-0 victory over a woeful Chelsea at the Emirates to make the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League tighter than ever.


Chelsea could have lost by a lot more than two goals after a first-half performance without any redeeming features. If nothing else, however, this kind of emphatic defeat should provide Maurizio Sarri with the push he needs to shake up a stale and stagnant starting XI.


This felt every bit as bad as the first half against Tottenham at Wembley that left Chelsea 2-0 down after just 16 minutes. Sarri's men were slow, predictable and passive, failing to even threaten Arsenal's goal until the game was beyond them. Ominously, they must still go to the Etihad Stadium, Anfield and Old Trafford.

Manager Rating out of 10

3 -- For all his complaints about a lack of training time this season, Sarri had a full week to prepare for this game and it didn't show. Chelsea looked totally unprepared for Arsenal's intensity and there was no tactical variation once the game began to go against them. Gonzalo Higuain can't arrive soon enough.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 6 -- Occasionally punched when he should have caught and some of his kicks went awry, but was otherwise the only Chelsea player who could leave the Emirates with his head held high. Made a couple of excellent saves and could do nothing about either of Arsenal's goals.

DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 4 -- Could not isolate himself from the collective disintegration of the Chelsea defence and was at times every bit as guilty of letting Arsenal attackers get away from him -- most notably when he was among four blue shirts to leave Koscielny totally unmarked for the Gunners' second.

DF Antonio Rudiger, 5 -- The best of Chelsea's defenders but, on a day like this, that really isn't saying much. Was still found positionally wanting on a couple of occasions and his speed across the ground was not enough to get him out of trouble.

DF David Luiz, 4 -- Does not tend to keep his head when those around him are losing theirs, and he did nothing to steady the ship as Chelsea floundered early on. Never got to grips with Lacazette and Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang and was perhaps lucky only to see a yellow card for a studs-up lunge on Aaron Ramsey.

DF Marcos Alonso, 3 -- His lack of mobility with and without the ball has become a real problem for Chelsea at both ends of the pitch. He was too slow to react to the threat Lacazette posed in the build-up to Arsenal's first goal and often failed to escape their press. Hit the post with a header, but this was a torrid display.

MF N'Golo Kante, 4 -- Probably the worst passing performance of his Chelsea career. Was repeatedly pressed into mistakes and even made a couple when he had as much time as he wanted. Also committed a number of silly fouls which conceded free kicks in dangerous areas.

MF Jorginho, 4 -- When he breaks down, Chelsea break down. Ramsey did the Dele Alli marking job on him from the first minute and he set the tone for his team's error-strewn opening with some loose passes. Once the Gunners sat back and invited pressure, too few of his passes were progressive.

MF Mateo Kovacic, 4 -- His neat and tidy qualities on the ball are only useful when those around him are also looking after it, and he offered little else either in terms of defensive cover for the labouring Alonso or in the final third. It was no surprise when Barkley replaced him just after the hour.

FW Pedro, 4 -- Unlucky not to convert Chelsea's best move when he lobbed just wide from Luiz's superb floated pass, but he blazed another gilt-edged effort over after the break. Didn't have his shooting boots on, which is a big problem when few of his teammates even own a pair.

FW Eden Hazard, 4 -- So clearly doesn't want to play as a false nine and Sarri has given up on telling him to stay up front. Every time he drifts deep or wide, however, Chelsea are utterly toothless in attack. Arsenal shackled arguably the most talented player in the Premier League far too easily.

FW Willian, 4 -- His evening was summed up when his most dangerous shot, cutting in from the left flank, struck Alonso's back and ricocheted straight out of play. Another less threatening effort flew straight out for a throw. Offered very little to his team in attack or defence.


FW Ross Barkley, 6 -- Played with welcome drive and purpose when he came on, forcing one painful block from Koscielny with a fierce drive. That said, the game was already well beyond Chelsea by that point.

FW Olivier Giroud, 6 -- Should have started the game and definitely should have been on at half-time. Instead, he was granted a 22-minute cameo with Arsenal already set and comfortable in their defensive shape.

FW, Callum Hudson-Odoi, N/R -- Brought on in place of Pedro for the final 10 minutes, having seen nothing in the first 80 to justify Sarri's decision not to trust him as a starter -- and nothing to make Bayern Munich's offer any less appealing.