Cheer up, Chelsea fans: it will (probably) get better


Antonio Conte knew he was inheriting a reclamation project when he took the Chelsea job this summer, but perhaps he didn't know exactly just how gigantic an assignment he'd be tasked with. Up until Saturday, Chelsea were as sure of a bet as one can find to get a result against Arsenal. It'd been five years since the Gunners had taken points off of the Blues in the Premier League, but Saturday's 3-0 dismantling of their bogey team changed the momentum of the London rivalry.

Arsenal blew the doors off of Chelsea, hardly letting the Blues accomplish anything resembling a strategy as Arsene Wenger and the Gunners exorcised a half-decade's worth of demons. It also cast a big bright spotlight on the monumental task that Conte has in front of him. Chelsea's flaws are numerous and nearly rampant across the entire pitch. Diego Costa could hold his head high after an aggressive performance (which saw him pick up another yellow card, naturally), but the rest of Chelsea's starting XI were languid.

A tepid midfield performance aside, Conte's chief concern will surely be with his erratic defense. With John Terry injured and out of the match, Conte turned to a starting center back pairing of David Luiz and Gary Cahill once again. You can take your pick as to which of that duo had a more laughable shift. Cahill sat on a ball in his own half before Alexis Sanchez swooped in to collect and give Arsenal their first. Luiz, meanwhile, continued his questionable strategy of having the same defensive awareness of an ostrich. Branislav Ivanovic, deputizing for the absent Terry as Chelsea's captain, was equally ghastly. At one point he played such an errant pass that Conte couldn't bear to watch, NBCSN commentator Arlo White remarked.

In truth, watching the match between splayed fingers over one's face might have been commonplace among Chelsea fans. But there's good news on the horizon, however. For Chelsea, it really, probably, shouldn't get much worse than this. For all the knee-jerk reactions that come with such a lopsided match, Conte is still less than a quarter of a way into his first season in charge. Chelsea's defensive woes could be assuaged by the return of Terry (though they really need to find an adequate replacement for the 35-year-old) and youngster Kurt Zouma down the road at center back.

Last year's miserable season also means that Chelsea won't face the fixture congestion that their rivals do. For all of Chelsea's pitfalls, fatigue should be the one hurdle they shouldn't have to contend with. There are plenty of other obstacles to overcome, though. Conte has his work cut out for him to get optimism to return to Stamford Bridge, and some of the building blocks are there. But Saturday's loss to Arsenal further confirmed that the rebuilding effort is still a ways away from being done.