Arsenal expose Chelsea cracks
As Arsene Wenger celebrated a victory he believes completes Arsenal's transformation from boys to men, Carlo Ancelotti confessed Chelsea's season has slumped into a deep sleep.
It was only seven months ago, at the end of his first campaign at Stamford Bridge, that Ancelotti added his name to the elite ranks of those who have claimed the domestic double of league and FA Cup.
And yet, after an abject and emphatic defeat at the hands of an Arsenal side they have made their personal playthings in the past, Chelsea's coach was fending off questions about his future as he admitted it was not just his fading team that needed to wake swiftly from their current nightmare.
How times change. Like two leading men swapping roles at the end of a long-running production, it was Wenger who was released from the shackles Chelsea have imposed on him while Ancelotti was suddenly the man in chains.
Arsenal cleared the barrier Wenger regarded as a psychological hurdle for the first time since November 2008, answering questions even posed from within their own ranks about their ability to overcome superpowers such as Chelsea and Manchester United.
The tables were turned as Wenger eulogised about the "mannish dimension" to Arsenal's win and warned the days when they could be bullied - particularly by the likes of Chelsea and Didier Drogba - were over.
Wenger has bridled in the past about "men against boys" jibes aimed at Arsenal in defeat to Chelsea, so he was entitled to return fire after such a convincing victory.
In this season of swings, Arsenal must now regard themselves as serious contenders for the crown if they can bottle the self-belief this deserved 3-1 win will give them and carry it with them through the rest of the season.
The very notion of Ancelotti being under threat is, in most circumstances, a ridiculous one but the shadow an impatient and demanding owner in the shape of Roman Abramovich hangs permanently over Stamford Bridge.
Abramovich is not renowned for limitless tolerance of bad results and past history tells us he will not take kindly to a run of only six points out of a possible 24 for a Chelsea side that opened so impressively that many thought the title would be wrapped up by this very Christmas.
Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted only seven months after a similar golden start slipped into the sort of decline that has accompanied a sudden air of instability and unease settling on Chelsea this season.
And Ancelotti was not hiding from what he knows to be the reality under Abramovich as he said: "We have to wake up. Now we are sleeping and maybe I have to be the first to wake up."
In the past Chelsea's experience has been the crucial factor as they have, to use Wenger's own word, "battered" Arsenal. Here at the Emirates experience looked suspiciously like ageing as Arsenal's young legs simply had too much pace and intensity for Ancelotti's side.
Chelsea and Ancelotti deserve more respect than to be written off after one bad run, but the warning signs are flashing as they drop to fourth place in the Premier League, six points behind leaders Manchester United having played a game more.
Ancelotti, for all the past expenditure, has a threadbare squad at his disposal. Chelsea's bench was embarrassingly inferior to Arsenal's where Wenger had Marouane Chamakh, Abou Diaby, Andrey Arshavin, Tomas Rosicky and Nicklas Bendtner to call on.
Much has been made of the sacking of Ancelotti's assistant Ray Wilkins as the catalyst for their slide, a decision that clearly failed to meet with his approval. And in a moment when four members of Chelsea's backroom staff appeared in the technical area at the Emirates to offer advice, there was no sign of Wilkins' successor Michael Emanolo.
Wilkins was a popular member of Ancelotti's staff, but if his departure really has led to Chelsea's form jumping off a cliff then the entire empire was built on the flakiest foundations. It is an unlikely story.
Ancelotti said: "I know Roman Abramovich won't be happy about this moment but I have to take my responsibility and I will take my responsibility."
He added: "Everybody said last year that I did a fantastic job. Everybody can now say that my job is not good - and that first one who says this is me. We are in a bad moment. I thought we were out of it and I was surprised by this performance because we have had two good weeks of training.
"I'm worried, obviously, because that's six or seven games we've not been able to win. I didn't see the team playing the way we want."
If there is pressure on Ancelotti to turn results around, surely there is even greater pressure on Abramovich to support the Italian with the serious funds needed to fill out a squad that has been allowed to get too thin.
When I asked Ancelotti if he believed Abramovich would also fulfil his responsibility, he responded: "We are speaking about this. If we are able to do something we will."
Ancelotti is a dignified, diplomatic figure and he will recognise that twin factors are behind Chelsea's recent demise - a loss of form and a squad that is not up to strength, something he alluded to significantly when he admitted: "We don't have the possibility to change a lot of players."
The core strength remains in Ancelotti's squad, but it now needs a period of renewal as well as strengthening around the edges and certainly with better buys than £17m Brazilian Ramires, who looks lightweight and out of his depth.
No-one can criticise Abramovich for instigating a period of austerity in west London after the lavish early spending, but Ancelotti will surely request for the purse strings to be loosened now to augment gifted players who remain in the hunt for major trophies.
Chelsea were simply swept aside by Arsenal, driven on by the lift of Alex Song's goal on the stroke of half-time. Laboured, although there was no lack of effort, Chelsea lacked the urgency to inflict any of the punishment they usually reserve for the Gunners.
Arsenal hustled and harried Chelsea out of the defensive certainty that was once their calling card as Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott added two more in the space of two minutes just after the interval to confirm the win.
Branislav Ivanovic's header cannot even be filed under consolation. There was no consolation for Chelsea on this miserable night. And the frustrations bubbling close to the surface flared up as John Terry and Drogba confronted each other angrily near the centre circle immediately after Walcott's goal, one of the few obvious signs of passion on show from a surprisingly timid Chelsea.
The contrast in emotions in the two camps was stark. This was the sort of affirming performance Wenger has craved amid the criticism, plenty of it here it should be said, that Arsenal do not deliver when it matters.
I have been accused of being too harsh on Arsenal in the past. Not this time. They were impressive almost from first whistle to last, although Wenger himself issued wise words of wisdom when he warned victory against Chelsea must not be undermined by under-performance at Wigan later this week.
Wenger's blueprint was perfect and Arsenal carried it out to the letter. Johan Djourou subdued the tormentor Drogba, while Walcott's pace drove Chelsea on to the back foot and put an instant stop to Ashley Cole's usual attacking intent.
When I questioned Wenger on what the victory, and the manner of victory, would do for Arsenal he said: "It is a team we needed to beat because it gave a double impact. Mathematically it keeps us in touch with the leaders and psychologically there was also an impact because we have proved we are capable of winning these big games."
Arsenal's season is alive and well. Ancelotti must now find the formula to awaken the sleeping giants of Chelsea.