The tables have turned in London. Chelsea, backed by Russian billions, spent the best part of 20 years looking down on its local rival in England’s capital city, but no more.
Now it is Tottenham and Arsenal leading the way in the Premier League, while Chelsea treads an uncomfortable and uncertain path under new owners and yet another new manager.
On Saturday, the club that won the Champions League as recently as 2021 hosts Arsenal at Stamford Bridge aiming to build on a recent upturn in results, following a calamitous first season under the ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, and a troubled start to this campaign.
It is too soon to say if manager Mauricio Pochettino is on the way to turning Chelsea’s fortunes around after three straight wins in all competitions, and the game against Arsenal has the potential to be a sobering reminder of the gap that exists between the teams.
Arsenal is a prime example of how clear-thinking and trust in a manager can reap rewards after Mikel Arteta led the club to the brink of its first league title since 2004 last season. A late collapse cost a team that few expected to run Manchester City so close, but the 1-0 win against the defending champion at the start of the month has fuelled belief Arsenal can end its long wait for the title this time around.
The Gunners’ work has been patient. Arteta was hired in 2019 and given the backing to rebuild his squad around a core of young players.
Top players were shown the door as part of the process, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil notable departures.
There were dips along the way and it is hard to imagine a Chelsea manager surviving some of the runs Arteta has endured, such as the three losses from his team’s opening four games of the 2021-22 season, which culminated in a 5-0 rout by City.
Under former owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea would regularly hire and fire managers, but the success kept on coming with 19 major trophies, including five Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues.
The British government sanctioned the Russian oligarch after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Chelsea was sold to a consortium led by American businessman Boehly and private equity firm Clearlake for 2.5 billion pounds ($3 billion) last year.
The exorbitant spending has continued, as well as a carousel of managers. But the success hasn’t.
Even after spending $630 million on players, Chelsea endured its worst Premier League season points-wise and failed to qualify for the Champions League.
Boehly and Clearlake also went through two permanent managers in their first year, firing Thomas Tuchel and his replacement Graham Potter, before giving club icon Frank Lampard a short-term deal and then hiring Pochettino in the off-season.
It has been a chaotic start for the new owners, who spent lavishly again in the last transfer window on players such as Moises Caicedo and Christopher Nkunku, without much of an upturn on the field as Pochettino’s team recorded just one win from its opening six league games.
Chelsea’s form has improved with back-to-back league wins against Fulham and Burnley and victory against Brighton in the English League Cup. But Arsenal, currently level on points with leaders Tottenham, represents the biggest test Pochettino has faced yet.
Normal service has resumed on Merseyside. Liverpool is in contention at the top of the table once again, while Everton looks in store for another fight for survival.
The two rivals face each other at Anfield on Saturday when Liverpool can pile further misery on its neighbour across Stanley Park, the 110-acre site that separates the two clubs.
Jurgen Klopp appears to have put last season’s troubles behind him after missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time since 2016. The 2020 champions are just three points off the top of the standings and have quickly adjusted to life without a host of their leading players sold in recent times, such as Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson.
A win against Everton in the early kick off would see Liverpool move above leaders Tottenham on goal difference or goals scored, even if only temporarily. Arsenal and City have games later in the day and Spurs play Fulham on Monday.
If the pain of last season is looking short-lived for Liverpool, Everton’s problems are not so easily solved. After avoiding relegation on the final day of last season, Everton is battling towards the bottom again.
Recent wins against Brentford and Bournemouth have lifted the mood around Sean Dyche’s team, but five losses in the league already are evidence of its struggles amid a prospective takeover and the building of a state-of-the-art new stadium.