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Arsenal logo
Premier League | Gameweek 29
Apr 23, 2024 at 8pm UK
Emirates Stadium
Chelsea logo

Arsenal
5 - 0
Chelsea

Trossard (4'), White (52', 70'), Havertz (57', 65')
Arteta (43'), Trossard (45'), White (76')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Gilchrist (42'), Cucurella (43')

Mauricio Pochettino's latest comments spell bad news for one Chelsea player

Although Chelsea lost 5-0 to Arsenal on Tuesday evening, Mauricio Pochettino's post-match comments were equally as damning for a player that did not play a single minute at the Emirates Stadium.

Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino has not been shy with an outlandish post-match comment this season. Sometimes, you get your standard generic replies, but when he is frustrated, a quote slips through the net that makes you question: 'Did he really mean to say that?'

For the sake of balance, he was completely correct when saying his Chelsea squad are "immature". It may not have necessarily been in the context that some perceived it to be, yet it was entirely true.

But when Pochettino was questioned on the absence of Cole Palmer at his press conference following the 5-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal on Tuesday night, the Argentine came out with a line that would have been impactful on one of his younger crop who is desperate for a chance back in the team.

Arsenal's Leandro Trossard celebrates scoring their first goal with Declan Rice on April 23, 2024© Reuters

What did Pochettino say?

"He is the only player we have, a playmaker who links all the lines in the team. When you miss a player like this, it is not easy to replace."

Granted, Palmer has the potential to be an absolute superstar. In terms of footballing intelligence and not just being reliant on physical attributes, he is so far above the rest of this Chelsea squad that it exposes the flaws in the methods of the club's recruitment strategy. Last night also showed Chelsea's decision-makers should lower their optimism over bridging the gap to the top four. Champions League qualification is not happening anytime soon.

Yet there was a player sitting in the away dugout at the Emirates Stadium wondering what he has to do to be provided with another start in a Chelsea starting lineup that features a consistent trio of players in the engine room that are producing inconsistent results. This was even before Pochettino uttered a sentence that does not bode well for his Chelsea future.

Chelsea's Carney Chukwuemeka celebrates scoring their first goal on August 20, 2023© Reuters

Chukwuemeka has proven his worth

Carney Chukwuemeka began this season in the Chelsea XI, the selection hinting Pochettino is an admirer of what the England Under-20 international can bring to the table. He impressed against Liverpool and scored at West Ham United, before disaster struck as he suffered a knee injury that prevented him from earning another Premier League appearance until January 13.

Since then, the 20-year-old has not played more than 24 minutes in a single top-flight fixture, with that coming at Liverpool when Chelsea were already 3-0 down. Within five minutes of his introduction, he had instigated a well-worked goal for Christopher Nkunku.

Chukwuemeka has since had issues with his fitness. An ankle injury and knock sustained while with England Under-21s halted his momentum, yet Pochettino has seemingly forgotten that it was "his run between the lines" that was Chelsea's saviour in the FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester City in between those minor issues.

There is a difference between creating and converting chances between these lines that have become the topic of conversation, but Chukwuemeka has been limited to just 252 minutes of football this season and he has had a direct hand in three goals.

Chelsea midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka preparing to score against Leicester City on March 24, 2024.© Reuters

Is Pochettino keeping the handbrake on?

Rather than Pochettino openly questioning his lack of creative options aside from Palmer, the real issue here is why Pochettino is so set in his ways when it comes to selecting Moises Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez and Conor Gallagher, instead of using Chukwuemeka as the most advanced of the three.

That triumvirate has been effective in certain games this season, particularly against the bigger teams. The pressing of Gallagher has been as influential as the pure genius of Palmer at times during 2023-24, but regardless of the opposition, Pochettino has become narrow-minded when it comes to selecting his engine room.

Chelsea have not won a Premier League fixture when Caicedo has not started this season. The one game Gallagher has missed was the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United when Chelsea were outfought. There is a logic as to why Pochettino is choosing to go in the direction he has done.

Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino on March 30, 2024.© Reuters

But he built his progressive Tottenham Hotspur side with the handbrake off. At least four of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane were playing in the same team on a consistent basis. Rarely has Pochettino gone with more than three attack-minded players at Chelsea.

Despite the growing list of squandered big chances this season, Chelsea have scored 61 goals in 32 games, the seventh-best return in the Premier League. This statistic suggests the handbrake is most certainly not firmly on, but Pochettino's preferences are limiting Chelsea and undermining the attributes of a player in Chukwuemeka who should be playing in the same team as Palmer.

Are there reasons behind Chukwuemeka's lack of game time?

Chukwuemeka is less than six months short of his 21st birthday and he has made just six starts in the Premier League and a total of 11 starts in all competitions as a professional; the only time he has completed 90 minutes is in the EFL Trophy and at Under-20 level with England.

Chelsea's Conor Gallagher celebrates scoring their first goal on February 6, 2024© Reuters

At some point, you have to question why that is. Is he not doing enough behind the scenes? Does Pochettino have concerns about the balance of his team? Is his lack of starts a consequence of Chelsea's issues in defence? Why can Pochettino not use him in a similar role to Palmer when he is not available?

Chelsea travel to Chukwuemeka's former club Aston Villa on Saturday evening and the chances are he will not start. The West Londoners have already defeated Unai Emery's side in the West Midlands this season with the aforementioned midfield trio, Nicolas Jackson on the left and Palmer as a false nine. Do not be surprised if Pochettino switches to that strategy at the weekend.

But there are enough big games during the run-in where Chukwuemeka needs to be trusted to make an impact. Not being introduced after Manchester City took the lead in the FA Cup semi-final, nor when Chelsea went 4-0 down versus Arsenal, felt pretty damning, but that is down to Pochettino's methodology, not Chukwuemeka's ability. Barcelona may be keeping watch.

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CManchester CityMan City38287396346291
2Arsenal38285591296289
3Liverpool382410486414582
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5Tottenham HotspurSpurs382061274611366
6Chelsea381891177631463
7Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381861485622360
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