• Chelsea's forward thinking exposed by rampant Arsenal
• Villas-Boas must weld discipline to dynamic style
If Chelsea's adaptation to all that André Villas-Boas aspires to was expected to be seamless, then it has not taken long for a sense of realism to set in. Life under him will clearly be illuminating at times, the football refreshingly attack-minded and exhilarating when it clicks, but there will be occasions such as this when his team become unstitched.
This derby was thrilling, though the majesty of the occasion was lost on the defeated as they trudged from the turf at the end. Chelsea have suffered in riotous collisions with Manchester United and now Arsenal this season despite the fact that, in both contests with rival contenders, they have scintillated. Profligacy has undermined them where they might have run up cricket scores yet, ultimately, the focus has been drawn away from the chances spurned to those conceded. This is a forward-thinking side whose desire to pour forward leaves them open and, against better opposition, alarmingly vulnerable.
Villas-Boas is attempting to implement the style and tactics that proved so successful in his only full season as a manager, a glittering campaign at Porto that yielded every major trophy available, but the demands for a high defensive line and a disciplined pressing approach to regain the ball are still being digested by this squad of players.
Their style, with Ashley Cole and José Bosingwa as auxiliary attackers and those in the centre asked to shield and cover, hassle and harry when out of possession, can appear naive when opponents rip through on the break as often as Arsenal did on Saturday. The philosophy is admirable and entertaining, whether it thrives or not; it is the implementation that on occasion has let Chelsea down to date.
The technical staff will have been privately uncomfortable when concentration wavered in midfield, with players caught out of position or drawn into areas that left team-mates exposed. Villas-Boas insisted after Chelsea's first five-goal concession in this stadium since Liverpool won 5-2 in 1989 that he was not one for changing.
"The results [in the Premier League this season] reflect how chaotic the game is and how beautiful it is at the same time," he said. "For the neutrals it is a good spectacle. For supporters of that team, you want to play beautiful football and win. So we need to get the two together.
"We created enough chances to win but we have to try to find the efficiency to win. We shouldn't turn things around. This is the route we are taking and we want to do the things properly. The players have talent and they enjoy it. So we will try to get things right. Everyone is praising a strong, attacking team like Manchester City and we are exactly the same."
City, however, tend to benefit from the presence of two defensively-minded midfield sitters who grant their forward line more freedom to dazzle. Mikel John Obi has actually felt more effective on occasion this season but contests against the best tend to leave him outnumbered and bypassed. There may be a logic to employing Oriol Romeu, whose cameos have been impressive, alongside the Nigerian in key games to come.
Similarly, with Alex having failed to convince and David Luiz prone to meander upfield, the management might seek to add more steel to the ranks at centre-half in January – or at least players who are more familiar to the demands now being placed on them. At most clubs this might be considered a season of transition but Chelsea are not known for patience.
The true balance Villas-Boas has to strike is between implementing his ideas while also maintaining challenges on all fronts. Had this been a Champions League match against Barcelona, Chelsea would have been out of the competition.
As it is, their powers of recovery will be tested. Arsenal were as fragile defensively here but they were less profligate up front and that covered their deficiencies. In Robin van Persie they had the game's outstanding forward – Fernando Torres was desperately quiet in comparison – while Aaron Ramsey emerged to eclipse Frank Lampard as the game's creator-in-chief. All the goals were superbly executed but still owed something to defensive chaos, with the exception perhaps of Juan Mata's superb third which might normally have been disallowed after Romelu Lukaku blocked André Santos.
That restoration of parity at 3-3 had briefly hinted at a late onslaught from Chelsea only for John Terry's scriptwriters to veer off course. The captain's goal on the stroke of half-time had suggested strength of character, an unwillingness to bend under the weight of the allegations of racism that are under investigation by the Football Association. Instead Florent Malouda's routine back-pass prompted panic and the England centre-half first stumbled, then sank to the ground as Van Persie raced away to round Petr Cech and restore Arsenal's lead.
The image of Terry prostrate on the turf rather summed up what this occasion had become. Villas-Boas has not suffered successive league defeats since his Academica side succumbed to Porto and Guimarães in March 2010. But, while Blackburn Rovers await at Ewood Park on Saturday, it is the contests with Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur over the next six weeks that may prove more definitive. Adaptation needs to be accelerated.