LONDON // As Arsenal seek to maintain their new found momentum at Wigan tonight, Chelsea have far more pressing matters against Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge. They must prevent a crisis turning into chaos.
Arsenal's emphatic 3-1 win on Monday night enhanced the title aspirations of Arsene Wenger's young side.
But Chelsea approach the New Year facing an uncomfortable reality that their priority in the Premier League may no longer be whether they can win it but, rather, if they can finish in the top four. With six points from eight games, only 18th-placed Fulham are on a worse run than is Chelsea. Should Bolton win tonight, Owen Coyle's side would vault over Carlo Ancelotti's side in the table.
Even a Chelsea win is unlikely to lift the malaise that has enveloped the club in the weeks since Ray Wilkins, the assistant manager, was sacked. The dressing room is on the verge of revolt.
Key senior players such as John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard are angry about how the changes in staff have undermined the team's early momentum but they also are irate at the failure to replenish the squad.
Ancelotti last night tried to play down suggestions of rifts. "These rumours are not true. Everyone knows this moment is difficult and we're not able to do what we're usually able to do. Six months ago we won the double. It's impossible that everything has changed, the atmosphere from the players, in that time."
The quality of the squad has changed for the worse following the departure of five first-team players last summer. That provoked a stinging comment from Terry, the captain, who said that the squad are "too weak."
That was confirmed with a quick look at both benches on Monday night. Arsenal sent on Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Marouane Chamakh and still had Andrey Arshavin in reserve. Chelsea introduced Gael Kakuta, Ramires and Jose Bosingwa.
It could be argued than many of Chelsea's problems are because of the interferences of Roman Abramovich, the owner. Aware of his impatient streak, Ancelotti said: "Obviously he won't be happy at the moment, but I'm not afraid about my job. Everyone said I did a fantastic job last year.
"Now people are asking me about my job. We just have to go out and show what we are made of in this next game."