Stamford Bridge is smiling once again after two first-half goals proved enough to win this London derby against an Arsenal side who came back strongly after the interval.
Juan Mata continued his run of scoring in every game he has started against Arsenal, netting early on, and Frank Lampard was yet again reliable from the penalty spot to double the advantage with quarter-of-an-hour gone of a game played in light snow throughout.
Chelsea continued to play well up to the break but couldn’t make the most of our chances. When Arsenal increased the tempo of their play after the break, our grip on the game slackened and Theo Walcott pulled a goal back. The Gunners continued to look the better side but it was more a case of pressure on the Blues defence than clear cut chances, and Petr Cech was only occasionally called into action as our backline stood firm to secure all three points.
David Luiz was unavailable so Branislav Ivanovic came back into defence. Fernando Torres was centre-forward with Demba Ba on the bench. The midfield was unchanged from the midweek Southampton game.
Arsenal were totally unchanged from their FA Cup replay win over Swansea on the same night.
If Chelsea’s confidence in playing at home had been further knocked by the disappointing draw against Southampton, it didn’t show in the opening 45 minutes.
Fernando Torres was sporting a new short haircut and he set the tone by making a bright start to the game, teeing up Lampard for a shot off-target and then skipping past Sagna, only to be fouled. The Arsenal full-back might have been booked had it happened later in the game.
It was Arsenal’s centre-forward who had the first chance to score however, Olivier Giroud played through onside by Walcott who had run inside of Ashley Cole. With time to take aim, the Frenchman missed by a yard.
Chelsea rubbed it in almost immediately by going up the other end and taking the lead. Arsene Wenger was left complaining of a foul when Ramires won the ball from Coquelin but play went on and Azpilicueta lofted a pass into the box which Mata killed with his first touch, then fired high into the net with his next. It was a superb goal from the Spaniard.
His former Real Oviedo team-mate on the other side, Santi Carzola, drew a save from Petr Cech soon after before Chelsea threatened the Arsenal goal once again. This time it was skilful individualism from Hazard, gliding into the area and then testing Szczesny at his near post with a powerful shot.
Chelsea took a 2-0 lead for the second game running after 15 minutes. Mata was involved again, placing a pass to unmarked Ramires who had beaten the offside flag. The Brazilian was sidestepping Szczesny when the Arsenal keeper brought him down. Referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot but only produced a yellow card when it appeared a clear goal-scoring opportunity had been denied. Benitez was not impressed with that decision.
Lampard opted for placement rather than power this time to make it 195 goals. His last three goals have been penalties.
Arsenal were being stretched by Mata and Hazard in particular. A cross beyond Sagna gave Cole to chance to head at goal but stretching, he couldn’t hit the target in front of the Arsenal fans.
Chelsea’s next chance came on 35 minutes, Hazard and Oscar moving the ball out of our half to Mata. He passed out to Ramires on the right who did well to find a yard beyond Vermaelen but then shot wildly into the Shed End.
Arsenal were making Chelsea defend more in this quarter of an hour before the break, but the Blues continued to carry a threat. Torres should have done better than slice a shot wide on the stroke of half-time after a Mata free-kick had been half-cleared.
Given recent games at the Bridge, the Chelsea support had collective fingers-crossed that Arsenal would be given nothing to bite onto at the start of the second period, and had to be thankful when first Mertesacker with a header and then Walcott with a shot from dangerous positions gave Cech relatively easy saves to make.
Giroud then didn’t make sufficient contact with a header after Arsenal left-back Gibbs had counter-attacked and crossed.
Torres, quiet since the opening minutes, briefly got the better of Mertesacker but the attack fizzled out and it was not a great shock when Arsenal pulled a goal back on 57 minutes. Possession was lost when the ball was played up towards Torres and Cazorla slipped a pass through the middle to Walcott who was just onside. There was no catching the England international who kept his nerve to beat Cech.
The Gunners were in the ascendency and shot wide with a good chance to level. Most of the game was now being played in the Chelsea half.
But then a hopeful long pass towards Torres was misread totally by Mertesacker and the Chelsea no.9 was suddenly away. But he took a touch too strong as he closed in on the target and the keeper was able to intervene.
Suddenly Torres looked to have the beating of the Arsenal backline for pace but after another charge clear down the wing, he couldn’t pick out Hazard who was the only blue shirt in the area at which to aim.
Benitez made his first change on 71 minutes, Bertrand coming on for Oscar. Chelsea had a corner which was cleared. Ramires tested Szczesny with a shot that was scrambled away from goal.
On 79 minutes Ramires robbed Wilshere deep in the Chelsea half and attacked a big space, but couldn’t find a way through when he hit the Arsenal defence. One minute later, Demba Ba replaced Torres.
The substitute could have made a near instant impact. Moments after coming on he was racing down the left, played onside by Vermaelen as Bertrand lofted the ball forward. Ba took the ball beyond the keeper well but from a tight angle and running out of space, couldn’t then beat Vermaelen who was back on the line.
There were less than five minutes left on the clock when a Mata mistake deep in the Chelsea half led to Cole fouling Sagna on the edge of the area, at the cost of a booking. Thankfully Vermaelen couldn’t hit the target with his free-kick.
Bertrand had a goal-bound volley blocked by Sagna as the game drew to a close but there were still five minutes of stoppage time to negotiate. Chelsea’s defensive fortitude came to the fore as first Cahill headed a threatening cross away, and then enough pressure was put on Vermaelen that he could only head another cross over.
We had survived for a first home win in four attempts and an important one too. We now have an 11-point advantage over Arsenal having played a game more.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Cole; Ramires, Lampard (c), Oscar (Bertrand 71), Mata, Hazard (Marin 87); Torres (Ba 80).
Unused subs Turnbull, Ferreira, Terry, Ake.
Scorers Mata 5, Lampard 15 pen.
Booked Mata 65, Cole 86.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker , Vermaelen (c), Gibbs; Diaby (Arshavin 74), Coquelin (Ramsey 57); Walcott, Wilshere, Cazorla; Giroud.
Unused subs: Mannone, Santos, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Frimpong,.
Scorer Walcott 57.
Referee Martin Atkinson