Mauricio Pochettino Chelsea sack truth is obvious after Arsenal humiliation as new reality exposed

Mauricio Pochettino

There are two ways of looking at Chelsea's managerial position and how it has played out: 1) They have been justified in sticking with Mauricio Pochettino, and 2) they have missed the trick in not acting quicker to dismiss him or move on at the end of the season.

On the one hand, a run of over two months (eight games) unbeaten in the Premier League had left the club well in the mix to qualify for European football next season. In 2024, they are seventh in the table but having played one less than Tottenham (two points above them), two less than Newcastle - who are level with Spurs - and three fewer than Aston Villa just five ahead.

Heading into the clash at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, only Villa, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City had a better record in the past 12 matches. In the same period, Pochettino steered Chelsea into the FA Cup semi-final. This was their best domestic run of league results since October-December 2021 under Thomas Tuchel when they were competing at the top of the table.

The last time they eclipsed eight league games without defeat was in Tuchel's first two months in charge. That, for the record, included draws to Wolves and Southampton, ending with a 5-2 demolition at the hands of West Brom, for perspective.

The form of Malo Gusto, Trevoh Chalobah, Cole Palmer, and more recently Nicolas Jackson - save for Saturday's finishing struggles - has been immensely promising in recent times and in general Chelsea have shown signs of starting to click and gel eight months into the Pochettino era. For many this is reason enough to stand by a head coach after years of hasty sackings.

However, there is mitigation. Draws to Brentford, ten-man Burnley, and Sheffield United still mare the good recent run. The manner of those games just as much as the end results. Just beyond that previous hill were consecutive defeats of 4-1 and 4-2 to Liverpool and Wolves, Middlesbrough also claimed victory in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg in January.

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Depending on which side of the emotionally charged debate you stand will ultimately decide the stance. But logically there is not a clear winner in the #PochIn and #PochOut campaigns - both of which are comedic in 2024.

For many the dips on display are natural for a squad compromising largely inexperienced and under pressure, expensively assembled Under-23 players. Those who want more tangible and consistent progress see Pochettino's highlights as too infrequent, the next failure and capitulation around the corner.

The humiliation at the hands of Arsenal, which brought about alarming comparisons to the meek 3-1 surrender in the same fixture last season under Frank Lampard, may well have tipped that scale. Twelve months on from Graham Potter's departure and both sides of the argument remain perfectly valid. There are those who continue to wait out the rest of this campaign to fully decide on how to judge Pochettino, and it is noticeable that both Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole leapt to the defence of Pochettino both pre and post-match.

Chelsea are also in that camp and the plan, as it has always been, remains to assess the 52-year-old after his first year in charge. That is not expected to come before May 19 and the culmination of this season. How he manages to navigate a tough but opportunity-filled final month may go some way to determining how he is truly viewed. Being beaten up against Arsenal, a club that Chelsea have always loved to be superior to, is the worst and most sobering way to begin this effective period of playing for his job.

There remains a clear divide in his supporters and detractors despite the brief turnaround in results, but that is being slowly eroded by the regularity of implosions. For each step forward there are sizeable ones back, and Chelsea managers historically do not survive heavy defeats or damaging losses to rivals, let alone both.

The damage done by each mishap and poor performance completely outweighs the positive signs in victory. The reality that has been slowly bubbling for weeks now does not seem destined to have a happy last chapter.

What the supporters expect and what the owners have planned are two factions growing further and further apart. A fanbase grounded on success and ruthless decisions is coming to the end of its tether with an ownership group preaching for long-term plans without much semblance of short-term reward.

Ultimately Pochettino inherited a squad of players 23 and under that had spent very little (if any) time together. Those that were there from the seasons before had gone through carnage and lived in an unstable, unhealthy environment beforehand. The manager's job was tough from the start and expectations hovered between strong cup performances and a push for European football.

The defence for Pochettino is still a strong one despite the failures to harness such raw talent. He has been unable to manage the mess at his doorstep, which many will see as simply being his job.

However, the more evidence compiled for this group suggests he is working with a squad built that appears still to be incapable of competing at the top level just yet despite the vast amounts of money committed to it. "The club is building a new project, a new way to operate," he openly said on Tuesday.

"Of course this is the risk we need to take, when you build a new squad. The circumstances are not helping us be more competitive, be better or be more consistent."

Fighting words from a manager now attempting back to defend himself on a dark day. There is certainly truth to it as well. Chelsea are almost back to square one it seems, a matter which doesn't reflect well on the hierarchy from top to bottom. Not those who implemented the Under-25 recruitment strategy, the players themselves, or the coaching team setting them up.

Everyone is culpable, but it's the manager that is the easiest change to make. That's how football works and it may well leave Chelsea to be last in line to go after a new boss in the summer, if the

Remarkably, they are still within touching distance of the top six and have a clear image of the managerial landscape around them. Unlike Bayern Munich and Liverpool - but eerily similar to Manchester United - the Blues have not planted their flag to publicly state that a change will be made in the summer, even if it is a topic of hot discussion between fans and in the media.

Again, depending on the views of Pochettino from any individual, this can deciphered in different ways. Chelsea are either missing out on a chance to pursue possible targets (a reality which would be true if they were to split with Pochettino and then need another head coach next season), or they are playing a waiting game after years of hasty decision-making, and backing their appointment to come through after arriving in testing circumstances.

Some would say that they have already missed the trick with this one and that the seeds of his exit were sown long ago. There are so many moving parts to the impending managerial merry-go-round that actually, not being involved currently may well be of serious benefit to Chelsea, though.

Not one month ago it was thought widely that Xabi Alonso was near certain to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Now, they have reportedly interviewed Gary O'Neill for the job and have former Tottenham coaching target Arne Slot on their radar.

Feyenoord coach Arne Slot
Feyenoord coach Arne Slot has been linked with Liverpool -Credit:MAURICE VAN STEEN/ANP via Getty Images

Other names to have been heavily linked and quickly moved on in the last week alone are Julien Nagelsmann and Ruben Amorim. West Ham are thought to have spoken with the latter this week. Chelsea are known admirers but in the end he may well remain at Sporting CP.

Where do Bayern fit in? Tuchel is leaving - horrifyingly linked with a possible but not certain vacancy at Old Trafford - but no replacement is clear. Nagelsmann will be staying with the German national team and now Ralph Ragnick is in the fray at the Allianz Arena.

Barcelona will also need to find a head coach themselves, though that usually tends to sort itself out with under-the-radar and internal names. Newcastle could change, Jose Mourinho is out there, available and talking a lot, and there are a host of other statesmen not in jobs.

Hansi Flick and Antonio Conte are guns for hire. Gareth Southgate could be on the managerial market himself. Roberto De Zerbi is yet to be mentioned and has been the darling of England for 18 months since joining Brighton. Will someone take a punt on him at a bigger club?

This is all a grand old game and right now Chelsea aren't at the table. Not yet at least. Perhaps this is a benefit for the club as they seek stability, or it could be one big mistake as they lose ground on their already exploring rivals.

There are European Championships to consider when making these decisions too. Any coach will have to work his pre-season around this as well as transfer plans. Chelsea are likely to be busy one way or another, so it cannot be discarded as important context in the crucial meetings that will take place.

Imagine, for a second, that Pochettino does leave, a reality of growing possibility with every passing collapse; Given the season ends in mid-May, no coach is likely to be appointed until June at the very earliest. The Euros start two weeks later, and pre-season begins almost immediately afterwards. Transfers for a new manager will be tough to complete efficiently with new relationships across the board to be formed.

In a time of immense change, maybe not adding more is the best outcome for Chelsea. But that increasingly looks like a dream scenario that isn't going to come to fruition. With each match and every 15-minute calamity - because there always is one - the opportunity to keep plugging along with Pochettino looks harder.

He had been speaking like a man who was planning to stay on and get through this whereas two months ago he looked like a dead man walking. Falling to such disgraceful surrender at the home of a team that were pummelled by Chelsea just over two years ago creates an almost untenable feel once more, it has recaptured the worst of the mid-February slump that threatened to derail the season.

Not the first time that this gloomy shadow has been cast but yet Chelsea aren't on the managerial merry-go-round, at least not publicly, and history says it's a tough one to get right. Only in 2018 it was Conte taking pre-season after the World Cup only for Maurizio Sarri to take over on the eve of the Community Shield. A reminder of just how much can go wrong in these scenarios.

Now the choice with Pochettino becomes a more intense one. To stick with the mountain of problems and a coach struggling to stay afloat with them, or to get into the queue of clubs - most of them currently more attractive - trying to lure a new one their way?

That's the question that Chelsea have to find an answer to in the coming weeks.