Frank Lampard is accustomed to the idea of a midfielder wearing the No 8 shirt scoring goals in Chelsea games. It just used to be him, not Martin Odegaard. The chorus of “Super Frank” echoed around the stadium of the team of the league, as it long did. But never previously the Emirates Stadium, and not normally sung mockingly by the Arsenal fans. For Lampard, this was 90 minutes of torment, of schadenfreude. For years, as Didier Drogba destroyed a host of Arsenal centre-backs, Lampard was the support act to the Gunners’ nemesis, the vice-captain of Jose Mourinho’s team who dethroned Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles. Now Chelsea’s achievements in a season of spectacular, surreal incompetence include torching the managerial reputation of arguably their greatest player.
For Lampard, a 14th defeat in 15 games, interrupted by his sacking by Everton, came with a rarity – a Chelsea goal – but scant other consolation. No one escapes unscathed from this car crash of a campaign and the idea that Lampard had nothing to lose has taken a battering: he is more than half way into his temporary tenure and has a 100 percent record. A sixth match brought a sixth loss. The harrowing, humiliating scenario off an 11-game reign that does not even yield a draw, let alone a victory, remains.
Chelsea can compile different kinds of setbacks. In a sense, losing at home to Brighton and Brentford, third-tier clubs when Lampard was in his prime as a player, represent historic lows. But this was the most comprehensive of their six beatings under Lampard. There were times when Arsenal threatened to exact revenge for their 6-0 thrashing in 2014, when Mikel Arteta was in their midfield and Lampard had lost his place in the Chelsea team. The eventual scoreline flattered the side from west London. The damning reality, though, is that Arsenal now have twice as many points as Chelsea.
They used to win title races. They may have revived this. If Arsenal were out of form, Chelsea played them back into it. They had neither pressing nor possession. A shell of a team were devoid of spirit. They featured World Cup winners, Champions League winners, Premier League winners but a dejected, disjointed bunch are on Chelsea’s longest losing streak since 1993.
Lampard cast around for someone to halt the slide and, more in desperation than inspiration, alighted on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Maybe he rationalised than any striker was better than no striker for a team with a marked aversion to scoring. Or perhaps he was simply a sucker for a story, lured in by the irresistible pull of narrative.
Aubameyang against Arsenal; it had to be, didn’t it? Not for this Chelsea, though. Recalled for the first time since their last meeting with his old club, six months and one World Cup ago, he had nine touches; four of them were kick-offs. It was one more than he managed in the reverse fixture, but then Chelsea conceded fewer goals then.
The closest Aubameyang came to a chance was when Noni Madueke found him; the ball bounced embarrassingly off his foot and away for a goal kick. He did not return for the second half; the cheers that used to greet his goals here were reserved for that news.
Twin reunions with Arsenal this season have brought vindication for Arteta and anonymity from Aubameyang. He scored 31 and 29 goals in seasons for Arsenal but his Chelsea drought has extended to 16 games. The Chelsea goal came instead from another. There is a temptation, meanwhile, to call Madueke a surprise scorer, but perhaps the surprise was that Chelsea scored at all.
Lampard delivered 211 goals for Chelsea, which is now only 105.5 times as many as Chelsea have scored in his second spell in charge. A second goal in six games under him, and eight overall, came courtesy of a bobbling shot from Madueke, but the first, from Conor Gallagher against Brighton, was a deflection. It was a step in the right direction.
It said something for the lack of joined-up thinking at Stamford Bridge that two-thirds of the front three were not even named in Chelsea’s Champions League squad. Madueke’s chances have been limited – an inevitable consequence of such a bloated squad - and this was his first start since February. He represented the anomaly on the teamsheet. Apart from him, this was about as experienced a side as Lampard could have named. Perhaps with his own diminished standing in mind, he scarcely looked to the long term. There may be no future for Aubameyang, but there is none for Lampard either.
His team could not offer an endorsement of him. Chelsea were well organised, as long as Arsenal didn’t move. Had Arteta fielded mannequins, Chelsea were configured to keep a clean sheet, with a blanket of three defensive midfielders in front of the back four. But Arsenal were vibrant, Granit Xhaka popping up on the left wing to collect assists, Bukayo Saka brimming with the dynamism, Odegaard timing in runs into the box, scoring like a left-footed version of Lampard. And after the goals came the gloating.