A capitulation at Arsenal was the moment for Maurizio Sarri to unload pent-up frustration with his Chelsea squad.
Deflecting blame from his own decision-making after the 2-0 loss, Sarri didn’t hold back with a damning critique of his players’ mental fragility as Chelsea’s grip on fourth place in the Premier League was weakened by goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny.
The Italian opened Saturday’s post-match news conference in English by saying he wanted to speak in his native tongue “to send a message to my players.”
It couldn’t have been clearer from Sarri, or more withering.
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“I am extremely angry, very angry indeed,” Sarri opened his assessment through a translator. “This defeat was due to our mentality, our mental approach.
“We played against a team that was far more mentally determined than we were and I can’t accept that. We had a similar issue against Tottenham in the league.”
After that 3-1 loss at Tottenham, Sarri said he thought the players had overcome their problems. Turns out they haven’t.
“It appears this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate,” Sarri said.
“As a group of players they are not particularly aggressive from a mental point of view, they don’t have that kind of ferocity in their mentality and that is something that it’s down to the type of players they are — their characteristics. That is difficult to change.”
Sarri was far from finished with the outburst that was reminiscent of former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who was fired in 2015 over “palpable discord” with his squad.
“This is not a team that is going to be well known for its battling qualities,” said Sarri, the former Napoli coach who succeeded Antonio Conte at Chelsea in the offseason.
That was clear on a freezing night in north London as Chelsea only managed one shot on target, late in the game when already two goals down. Chelsea remains in the fourth and final Champions League qualification place, but Arsenal and Manchester United are now only three points behind.
“We need to become a team that is capable of adapting, so a team that can perhaps suffer for 10 to 15 minutes in the game but then play our own football,” Sarri said. “We did not play our own football in the sense that, for example, our defending ended up with us running backwards rather than going and pressing higher up the pitch.
“We are a team that should be playing one or two touches. Instead, we were playing, at some stages, with seven or eight touches.”
Unai Emery’s Arsenal, which lost last weekend to West Ham, made the most of an intense, attacking start — and Chelsea’s lax defense. Lacazette got on the end of Hector Bellerin’s cross and went past Pedro Rodriguez and Marcos Alonso before netting in the 14th minute.
“We were not strong enough in defense, particularly the first goal we conceded,” Sarri said. “We could have lost it for tactical reasons and technical reasons. But I think we lost it because of our (lack of) determination.”
It was lost by halftime. Arsenal extended its lead in the 39th when Koscielny missed his header trying to meet a lofted ball from Sokratis but his shoulder diverted it into the net. It helped to secure Arsenal’s second league win over Chelsea in 15 league meetings, stretching back into Arsene Wenger’s reign which ended in May.
“I don’t think a player playing at this level can be afraid of facing up to their own responsibilities,” Sarri said. “If any player was afraid of that, then they would not 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.”
There was a setback for Arsenal in the second half when Bellerin was carried off on a stretcher with a knee injury and the defender could face a lengthy layoff.
“We have to wait until tomorrow, but first impressions are not positive,” Emery said.