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04th Feb 2017

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea are everything Arsenal are not which is why the league title is inevitable

Today provided a lesson in why Chelsea are on course for glory.

Dion Fanning

When Antonio Conte was asked after Chelsea’s victory against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday if the Premier League was already won, he took so long in responding it seemed he might even answer truthfully.

Instead, after a pause, he said no it wasn’t, that Chelsea would celebrate this result, but tomorrow they would concentrate on the next game against Burnley. At this point, Conte started talking about how formidable Burnley are at home.

Nobody should have been surprised. Chelsea are not an outstanding side, but they possess many important qualities, assets that become even more commendable when they come up against a team like Arsenal who don’t appear to have any of them.

Conte was asked afterwards to explain what he had done since his team lost to Arsenal and Liverpool during an eight-day period in September, when it looked as if the fractures in the side weren’t going to heal just because Jose Mourinho had departed.

“I remember during the press conference,” Conte recalled on Saturday. “I said we’d faced two great teams, now we are not a team. We are 11 players playing and in this way anything can happen. I remember also my words. I told you we must show in the pitch to be a great team, not only because you are at Chelsea. Now we are showing this and I’m pleased.”

On Tuesday, they had avoided defeat despite not playing well at Liverpool and they summoned a similar spirit on Saturday while also being more creative and looking to Eden Hazard for a moment of genius.

This unity of purpose drove them to victory against an Arsenal side who, it should be said, showed they too could play for a common cause, even if that cause was only the pursuit of collective failure once again.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Chelsea, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do. Diego Costa dominated, N’Golo Kante swept up across midfield with Nemanja Matic, an impressive and diligent wingman, the pair looking like a couple of ill-suited detectives in a buddy movie.

Behind them, David Luiz commanded everything. He controlled the defence and strolled out from the back with the ball, reminding Arsenal that there was going to be no area of this game where they could feel superior.

Wenger may have felt the opening goal shouldn’t have stood, but he didn’t use it as an excuse for what followed. Conte, on the other hand, believed Marcos Alonso’s elbow was a normal part of English football life, even if he conceded a foul might have been awarded in Italy.

But Conte is not in Italy now and the restoration work he has done in his first months in England has been impressive.

Conte was not celebrating anything other than three points here, but the significance of this result had not been lost on him, even if he insisted that there was still a lot of work to do, 14 games where his players would need to maintain their standards.

“The league is not finished today,” he said. “We must know that we must work and continue to work very hard if we want to realise a dream.”

Later, it would turn into an even better day with Liverpool’s defeat at Hull effectively ruling them out of the title race.

Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Chelsea could take some pleasure too in the latest wound for Wenger’s Arsenal, and the reminder to those who make decisions at the Emirates that a manager can have a powerful impact on players who appear to be going nowhere.

Conte has done that at Chelsea and he knows what is required in the final months of his first season at the club.

When it was put to them that he would have to be on guard against his team slipping, Conte was emphatic, with everything in his answer letting you know it wouldn’t happen, as if he had been asked if it was ever ok for a man to wear socks with his sandals.

“I don’t slip and I don’t want my players to slip. It’s important this. In my squad I have a lot of players with good experience, because they won a lot in their careers. They know that until now we haven’t won the title. And it’s important to know this. To keep our antennae very high.”

Like many Italian managers, he is driven by the memory of failure, by the knowledge that the agony of the devoured is greater than the pleasure of the devourer.

“In my career as a footballer, I won a lot, but I lost a lot. And when you lose three finals of the Champions League and you win only one, I think you have a great hunger. For this reason I think I have a bit of experience to manage this situation and to try to keep our antennae very high.”

Chelsea under Antonio Conte will not rest and they won’t become complacent. They have fourteen games to go, but those in pursuit may already be out of time.

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