Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri labelled his players mentally weak and difficult to motivate after losing 2-0 at Arsenal in a toothless performance on Saturday.
The Gunners blew the race for a top-four Premier League finish wide open as first-half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny closed Arsenal and Manchester United, who beat Brighton earlier in the day, to within three points of Chelsea in fourth.
“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 more determined than we were and I can’t accept that,” said Sarri, who spoke in his native Italian as he wished to send a message to his players.
“The fact is it appears this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate.”
On current form Sarri’s men look likely to be caught by Arsenal or United as a fourth defeat in 11 league matches underlined the need for the signing of Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain on loan from Juventus, which is expected to be completed in the coming days.
Chelsea enjoyed 64 percent possession, but had just one shot on target to again question Sarri’s decision to start without a recognised striker with Eden Hazard’s impact limited in a central role, even against an Arsenal defence that had kept just one Premier League clean sheet since September.
However, Sarri insisted it was his players’ attitude and not his system that was the problem.
“I think when you see this kind of game, when one team is more determined than the other, you can’t really talk about tactics,” he added.
“From a technical point of view both teams are on the same level, but they were more determined. Tactics don’t come into it. Their high level of motivation was obvious throughout, particularly in both penalty areas.”
By contrast Arsenal boss Unai Emery’s selection was vindicated as Mesut Ozil was left on the bench for the full 90 minutes and a switch to a 4-4-2 allowed Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to form a potent partnership up front.
In keeping with so many of their performances of late, Chelsea created little despite dominating possession.
Olivier Giroud was given a warm welcome back to the Emirates when he entered as a substitute, but even with the French international as a focal point, the visitors failed to threaten.
Sarri will hope Higuain, who scored 38 goals when the pair first worked together at Napoli in the 2015/16 season, is the answer.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)