Senior Chelsea players have pointed the finger at Florent Malouda as one of the team's major underperforming stars and there is a feeling in the club that Luiz Felipe Scolari should pick Wayne Bridge on the left wing instead.
The England international was overlooked in the closing stages of Sunday's defeat to Arsenal when Scolari opted to bring on the unknown academy teenager Miroslav Stoch.
The defeat has left Chelsea players frustrated at their inability to turn the game around in the closing stages and while there have been no dressing-room disputes, the consensus is that Malouda (below), who joined from Lyons for £16.5m last year, and Didier Drogba, injured then suspended, have failed to pull their weight of late. It is understood that the club are secretly planning to buy a striker in January despite pledges to the contrary.
It is expected that Chelsea will have to sell before they buy and there are a number of clubs interested in Bridge, especially Manchester City, who could be used to raise funds. Among the names mentioned as potential new centre-forwards are the Egyptian striker Amr Zaki, who has not signed a permanent deal at Wigan. The club have an option to sign the 25-year-old, currently injured, on a permanent deal next summer. Another possibility is Karim Benzema, the France international at Lyons who would be expensive after signing a new contract there until 2013 last year.
Claiming yesterday that there would be "little or no activity" in the January transfer window, the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, is counting on the hope that Chelsea will not be held to ransom over fees. The club would gladly listen to offers for the likes of Drogba and Malouda but have little hope of recouping their investments, especially on the French winger. Kenyon yesterday denied the suggestion that Drogba, with 18 months left on his contract, was not in the right state of mind to play. "He [Drogba] will be back playing and available," Kenyon said, "and he's a big player."
Kenyon praised Scolari's contribution to the club so far and dismissed any fears after the defeat on Sunday. "I don't think anyone would deny we've had some disappointing results and [Arsenal] is a bit raw," he said. "But it's not yet Christmas and we're top of the league. You get weeks like that and we're not used to it too often, thank goodness, so it's not something we want to get used to. He [Scolari] has made a huge impact on the way and style that we play."
For the first time yesterday, Kenyon admitted that economies were being made at the club so that the owner, Roman Abramovich, no longer has to spend any more of his fortune propping up their losses. After Amramovich has pumped £600m into his Chelsea project over more than five years, Kenyon said that he was ready to present a budget to the Russian billionaire that would require no further investment.
With an unspecified sum cut off Abramovich's estimated £11.5bn personal fortune by the global financial conditions, Kenyon conceded that the days when Chelsea would consider breaking transfer records to sign players were over. He said the club had virtually abandoned its policy of scouting for young players from overseas and he did nothing to contradict the view that the out-of-favour Frank Arnesen was on his way out as the club's chief scout and youth development director.
Kenyon said that he hoped to submit a budget for the next financial year, which begins on 1 July, that would not involve the club's Russian owner having to plough any more of his fortune into the team. "If the need arises where we need him to, I'm sure he would, but it's a process [that will be in place] by the end of the season," he said. "The long-term plan here always was that we needed to be profitable, non-loss making and self-funding. That's always been the plan. All that these times [global recession] bring us is to look at ways to accelerate things.
"It's the right thing for Chelsea. That's not been dictated by Roman. He's absolutely committed to the club, absolutely passionate about the club, but he's also a very good businessman. Which is why he had enough money to put £600m into the club in the first place. Again, I think you'll find what we're doing here is the right and prudent thing to make sure Chelsea is in the right position."
Kenyon said that the club's policy of scouting academy players had been drastically changed. It is understood that Arnesen had previously built up a network of full-time scouts in countries all over the world. Now that they have been thinned out, they have to cover entire regions. Kenyon was also offered the opportunity to give assurances that Arnesen's job was safe but chose not to.
"Irrespective of the current financial environment, we have done a normal review to determine whether it [the scouting network] was where we wanted it to be," Kenyon said, talking at the announcement of a new four-year travel deal Chelsea have signed with Thomas Cook. "With some of the rule changes in Europe, on Under-18 transfers, or '6+5' [Fifa quotas on home-grown players] or transfer rules on Under-16s being tightened up we said we needed to focus differently in the next three years."