Chelsea Capitalize on Arsenal Defeat, but Are Pushed Close by Crystal Palace

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Chelsea Capitalize on Arsenal Defeat, but Are Pushed Close by Crystal Palace
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON—In Chelsea's last home match before Christmas, Jose Mourinho should have been in a festive mood.

After all, his team had just closed the gap on Arsenal at the top to two points after the Gunners had suffered defeat to Manchester City, with the Blues set to face Arsene Wenger's team next week.

But the manner of Chelsea's 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday meant he cut a more reserved figure in the aftermath.

"It's not important [to be top of the league at Christmas]," he said in his post-game presser. "I think, in this league, to be top by December or even by the end of January I do not think is crucial. I think this league will be open until very, very late.

Scott Heavey/Getty Images

"It's very hard every game. The distances open and they close, but it's very hard. Of course, we go there [to the Emirates] with the objective to win, but if we don't, I don't think it's crucial."

It's understandable Mourinho should be so cautious about league standings right now. His team's inconsistency is proving a major setback to their progress and there's little to celebrate—top or not.

Chelsea are far from discovering their best form just now and it seems Mourinho is rightly more concerned with putting that right than where his team sits in the Premier League.

Fernando Torres had opened the scores against Palace at Stamford Bridge after 16 minutes, but some slack defending let the visitors back into the game when they had deserved very little up to that point.

Marouane Chamakh scored his third goal in as many matches to equalize for the Eagles, but Ramires' 35th-minute strike eventually proved enough to seal a vital three points.

Scott Heavey/Getty Images

It could have been so different, though.

From leading 2-1, the Blues failed to close the game out and Palace enjoyed long spells of dominance after the interval.

At one point, John Terry was forced into a goal-line clearance amid a scramble in the penalty box and the Blues eventually did enough to hang on to the lead.

"I was expecting an easy victory. I was expecting big problems," Mourinho said when asked if he had expected Palace to be such tough opponents.

"I was ready for both things. I knew that when they have the ball and when they need to come up and when they need to build, it is difficult for them.

"But when they sit in the back, compact and together, very well organized and wait for the right moment to put the ball in the box and fight for the first and second ball, waiting for the corner or even the throw in, I know they are dangerous.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

"When I was reading the game and analyzing the situation I was feeling the game could go in both directions."

It's a fair assessment, but given Palace's troubles this season, the Blues should have dealt with their threat far more effectively.

Instead, they remained in the game for its entirety and had it not been for some desperate defending at times, Palace may well have left West London with much more than their pride intact.

"This result could have been 5-1 or 2-2," Mourinho added.

It's a statement that sums up Chelsea's season so far—they're either scintillating to watch or are huffing and puffing their way to frustrating results. There's nothing in between.

Mourinho's team can be a success or failure this season and it's clear that for it to be the former, things need to change rather quickly.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes

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