Chelsea weren’t meant to lose this FA Cup final. Everything was pointing towards the Blues sweeping an injury-riddled Arsenal aside having been able to rest after securing the title. Antonio Conte was going to notch the club’s second double and Arsene Wenger would be left in a muddle once again.
From the off Arsenal were far the better side. Chelsea were dominated centrally, as N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic could not handle the quartet of Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Conte could have seen his side fall behind by several goals and, in truth, the Blues were fortunate not be humiliated.
Whether we want to buy the ‘complacent’ narrative or see this as a renaissance for an Arsenal side that have recently embarked on a rare tactical adaptation, it was a reminder that this Chelsea incarnation are far from invincible. Impressive at their best, sure, the Blues have been flawed all too often and comparatively limped over the line this season. Defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United are hauntingly familiar memories, while the 93 point total still represents a remarkable achievement.
Chelsea’s squad appeared weak in August. Those weaknesses have been masked by a lack of injuries and superb management from the ever-likeable Italian manager. Those holes remain, however, and cannot be simply papered over this summer.
After other title wins, Chelsea have floundered and faffed in the transfer market. Cutting corners or pinching pennies, the Blues have left themselves in too weak a position the next season to reach their objectives or been forced to splash excessively in January.
As a Manchester arms race begins, Liverpool are linked with half the Bundesliga and Spurs’ young squad will improve, Chelsea cannot afford to lean on a roster that’s flaws have gradually reached greater prominence. It does not need to be brash, flash or brutally expensive like the spending from the northwest will be, but Chelsea’s summer is as definitive as anyone’s.
Bad team performances like Saturday’s will happen, but the club will not compete domestically or in Europe without significant additions, even if the financial burden can be lessened by the return of Andreas Christensen and Bertrand Traore from loan spells at Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax respectively.
Tiemoue Bakayoko or Romelu Lukaku would not have avoided defeat at Wembley, but the defeat and relative indifference in 2017 should serve as a stark wake up call for a club that must be ruthless in this window.