LONDON: New Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri applauded his players for delivering the high-pressure game he wants to establish for much of their roller-coaster 3-2 win over Arsenal on Saturday.
But they had him craving one of his trademark cigarettes during a “horrible” 15 minutes when the Gunners forced their way back into a frenetic Premier League London derby.
In a devastating start to Sarri’s first game at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea pinned Arsenal in their own half and raced into a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes thanks to goals from Spain duo Pedro and Álvaro Morata.
Italy midfielder Jorginho, who Sarri brought with him from Napoli, was commanding in the heart of midfield and Ross Barkley, who barely featured under previous Chelsea coach Antonio Conte, looked strong and confident.
“I think we did really very well in the first 25 minutes today,” Sarri told reporters.
“But we need to continue and press and press and press in the other half. Otherwise, for us it is maybe a problem. I hope that we are able to play 90 minutes like the first 25.”
On the touchline, Sarri, wearing a baggy blue T-shirt and track-suit trousers, waved his arms in frustration as he implored his players to close Arsenal down in their own half as the Gunners showed signs of fighting their way into the game.
Despite Sarri barking his orders, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi scored in the 37th and 41st minutes and the Gunners wasted several chances to go into the break ahead.
“The 15 minutes at the end of the first half was horrible. I enjoyed the match for 75 minutes, not in the other 15. In the other 15 it was better to smoke, I think,” Sarri, who is a heavy smoker, said.
He played down talk of Chelsea contesting the title, despite winning their first two games of the season, saying his side needed to learn to keep up their tempo.
Chelsea clinched the win when Marcos Alonso became their third Spaniard to score, converting a cross from substitute Eden Hazard who came on as a substitute in the 81st minute.
Sarri said he started the match with Hazard on the bench because he still seemed tired after helping take Belgium to the World Cup semifinals in July, but he said Hazard would probably be ready to play 90 minutes within one or two weeks.
Arsenal coach Unai Emery, who also moved to London this summer to replace Arsene Wenger, said he took positives from the defeat.
He said he remained calm despite having no points from Arsenal’s first two matches of the season, including last weekend’s 2-0 defeat by champions Manchester City.
“I think we need to give the players calm and to continue working,” he said.
“For me there were many things positive in the first match against Manchester City. And then today I think the team competed well, had chances in the match, and also the young players are playing each match and they are growing up with us.”