The two-year wait for an away league win in London is over as a high-quality derby is decided by strikes from our Spanish contingent.
Fernando Torres netted for the second time this week to put the Blues into a lead that was levelled up before the interval by Gervinho. There had been fluidity and good open-play passing by both sides in the first half and that continued after the break – but Torres’s goal had come from a Mata set-piece and that was the source of the winner, the Chelsea Player of the Year finding the net directly with a free-kick not long after the restart.
Arsenal had further chances, Petr Cech made two good saves, and only wastefulness from substitute Olivier Giroud prevented a stoppage time equaliser but the home side suffered their first defeat of the season.
If this was the first true test of Chelsea’s title credentials this season, the outcome is examination passed.
There was just one change from the last league outing, the home win versus Stoke. John Terry returned in place of Gary Cahill. That meant the exciting trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard lined up behind Fernando Torres.
Ramires played in a deeper role with John Mikel Obi. Frank Lampard, who returned to the squad after a minor ankle injury, started on the bench.
The Gunners made one change, their skipper Thomas Vermaelen returning in place of Per Mertersacker in central defence. Gervinho played as their central striker.
Plenty of the build-up to this derby centred on what the impact the new signings on both sides would make. Oscar, Hazard and Santi Cazorla were operating in similar areas of the park and it was Arsenal’s Spaniard who was first to show, but he fired comfortably over after Gervinho found him at the second time of asking.
That chance came after Ramires had been caught in possession when trying to move the ball on in a crowd, and it was the Brazilian who was wrong-footed by Diaby soon after as the Arsenal man warmed Cech’s hands with a shot.
That was the last significant contribution to the afternoon from the big Arsenal midfielder. He was forced off through injury, replaced on 16 minutes by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who played on the right with Aaron Ramsey now dropping deeper.
On 19 minutes, Hazard attacked a pass by Torres and was fouled by Vermaelen. From Mata’s free-kick the Blues took the lead. It was a well-placed delivery toward the far post but that does not explain why Laurent Koscielny, who was goal-side of Torres, made no challenge, allowing the Spaniard to volley the ball in around the Frenchman’s body.
The Blues were 1-0 up and could have made it 2-0 just three minutes later when Torres again gave Koscielny nightmares but then tumbled as he tried to shoot and missed the ball. Chelsea were sure the Arsenal defender had clipped our centre-forward’s heel and it should be a penalty but referee Martin Atkinson disagreed. Initial replays were inconclusive.
Arsenal were winning a fair few set-pieces in our defensive third of the pitch but were not making chances. The first foul deemed worthy of a card was by Ramsey who cut down Oscar in the Chelsea half with 34 minutes played. Oscar followed into the book four minutes later for catching Arteta. It was not his first offence.
In between those yellow cards, Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs overcommitted in a challenge and allowed Hazard to sprint away. Leaving his chaser to slide off the pitch with a highly-skilled cross from behind his standing leg, there was unfortunately no one well-placed to attack the Belgian’s ball in.
Di Matteo’s men were three minute away from taking a lead into the dressing room at half-time when Gervinho equalised. It took a well-crafted goal to breach our defence, Oxlade Chamberlain centring low into the area and the Ivorian turning sharply before beating Cech with a shot into the top corner.
Arsenal pressed hard for a short spell after but Chelsea recovered to finish the half the stronger. Oscar had a shot touched wide although no corner was given, and then Torres worked his way back from the byline but could only find the sidenetting with his shot.
Two minutes into the half the referee booked his second Chelsea player, David Luiz judged to have fallen too easily just inside the Arsenal area as Gervinho challenged. Our defender had come up for a corner.
Arsenal had the first shot of the second period with Cazorla, as he had been at the start of the first, off-target, Ashley Cole having cleared a dangerous cross from the edge of our six-yard box.
From the start of this match it looked as if this stage suited Torres and when he attacked Arsenal again, Vermaelen’s trip was judged a bookable offence. It looked too far out for a direct attempt by Mata but perhaps considering the inexperience of keeper Vito Mannone, our No. 10 struck the ball with the perfect trajectory to beat the wall and the covering Koscienly, who might have got a slight touch before it finally defeated the Italian stopper at the base of his post.
When Arsenal had the chance to equalise not long after, Cech was this time equal to the challenge, clawing away Podolski’s goalbound header after David Luiz and Ivanovic conspired to allow a cross.
That was a good save and it was followed on 72 minutes by an excellent one – Cech readjusting sharply to keep the ball out when a cross from substitute Olivier Giroud deflected off David Luiz.
Arsenal had been enjoying their best period of the game but as the game entered its final quarter of an hour Chelsea put the pressure back on with successive corners and a free-kick on the edge of the area that Mata couldn’t quite get over the wall.
There was a chance for substitute Victor Moses to seal it with five minutes left but he couldn’t keep his volley down after Torres had flicked on.
Possession was proving hard to retain. Before the end Cazorla completed a hat-trick of misdirected shots and then came the big escape. Ramires lost the ball near halfway and two passes later Giroud was in on goal. The Frenchman did the first part well, moving wide of Cech but with plenty to aim at, he found the sidenetting to the dismay of 55,000 Arsenal fans inside the stadium.
‘Champions of Europe, we know what we are,’ was the only song that rang around the Emirates as the final whistle blew.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, David Luiz (Cahill 80), Terry (c), Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Mata (Bertrand 84), Oscar (Moses 72), Hazard; Torres.
Unused subs Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Romeu, Lampard.
Scorers Torres 19, Mata 52.
Booked Oscar 38, David Luiz 47, Ramires 90+2.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen (c), Gibbs; Arteta, Diaby (Oxlade-Chamberlain 19); Ramsey (Walcott 66), Cazorla, Podolski (Giroud 66); Gervinho.
Unused subs Martinez, Santos, Mertesacker, Djourou.
Scorer Gervinho 42
Booked Ramsey 34, Vermaelen 52.
Referee Martin Atkinson