Chelsea record their first home win of the league with a well-disciplined victory in what was a feisty affair against nine-man Arsenal.
The Blues, seven points behind their opponents before the game, had Kurt Zouma’s head to thank as the Frenchman, thrust into the heart of Chelsea’s defence, leaped tallest from Fabregas’ free-kick.
But the match was not without controversy, as Arsenal suffered two red cards for Gabriel and Cazorla, whilst Chelsea should have had a penalty and should have separately had Costa sent off.
But, overall, it was a much improved week for the Blues who appear to have found their mojo back, clearly buoyed on from the mid-week thrashing of Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
The action was non-stop from the off, even after the shock drama that was the pre-match handshake which did take place between the managers. A shot by Fabregas at Cech’s goal after six minutes, and from outside the box, set the tone for a changed Chelsea, who were much more energetic, taking shots and defending with greater discipline. Their pressing game was equally strong, and it needed to be if Mourinho wanted to prevent Arsenal from scoring, something they have not done in the last four Premier League meetings with the Blues.
But at the other end comes Arsenal’s defence, who have kept three consecutive clean sheets, so Costa and his men would equally need to be fired up.
And boy was everyone fired up. Sanchez turned two and shot wide, whilst Walcott’s pace early in the game kept Cahill and the impressive Zouma on their toes.
Chelsea had their turn too, with Oscar, Hazard and Costa exuding a level of confidence in their play with some excellent intricate footwork.
The half’s best chance fell to Pedro, who timed his run to perfection from Fabregas’ lob, but Cech, who was welcomed back with open arms compared to Fabregas being booed with every one of his touches, stifled the ball before Pedro could sort his feet out.
The last 10 minutes of the half brought incident after incident. Hazard drove the ball from the half-way line to the by-line and was pushed over by Gabriel; it should have been a penalty but Mike Dean was not moved.
Chelsea were pressing and pressing — Pedro’s first-time shot was just wide from Costa’s lay-off, and the game was getting more and more end-to-end, with Ramsey one-on-one with Begovic, before Pedro chanced up at the other end.
And with gears being stepped up a notch, so did the temperament. Costa slapped and barged his way past Koscielny, and the Frenchman admirably did not react, but Gabriel did on his behalf. Both he and Costa earned a yellow card, but it was not over. Costa, known for his short fuse, kept mouthing off to his Brazilian compatriot and, provoked, Gabriel appeared to back-heel Costa. The Arsenal centre-back got his marching orders, but Costa, who actually was the aggressor, let off.
With no recognised centre-back on Arsenal’s bench, Chambers had to fill in, but it would be Chelsea’s loss if they could not wrap up the points with a home, and a man, advantage in the second half.
It was Chelsea’s centre-half who in fact gave the game’s next talking point: a goal. Fabregas’ floating free-kick was delicious and no-one picked up Zouma on the outside, who headed down past Cech.
Hazard’s shot nearly made it two but it was straight at Cech, but it was clear Chelsea wanted to kill the game off, considering they only converted one of their six goals on target.
But Arsenal were not no threat themselves. Confusion between Cahill and Zouma presented Sanchez with a volley, but it was a let-off for Chelsea’s defence.
Hazard looked to have re-found his confidence and turned three before shooting just wide of Cech’s far post.
The last half-hour brought frenetic end-to-end action, as Ramires came on to steady the ship.
Pedro shot over as Hazard had a chance too as Arsenal were struggling to counter-attack without being caught themselves on the break.
Arsenal’s afternoon got worse when Fabregas reached the ball a fraction of a second ahead of Cazorla to earn his compatriot his second yellow card.
Costa equally should have departed the field with an elbow in retaliation of a very far Arsenal challenge, but Mourinho had seen enough and the Spaniard would soon come off the pitch, but of his manager’s direction, thankfully not the referee’s. Remy’s pace was preferred to Falcao’s looks.
The Chelsea keep-ball game was the desired strategy but Hazard would score the insurance goal as the players queued up to an over-stretched Arsenal back-line.
And that was that, but there was certainly no post-match handshake.
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Man of the Match
KURT ZOUMA: A much improved team performance and at the heart of that is usually John Terry, but perhaps it is his successor, Kurt Zouma. The Frenchman, who is perhaps the beneficiary of Chelsea’s failed bid to sign John Stones, was immaculate in his defence work, leaping tall and also tackling well, before showing his attacking prowess from a set-piece. 8/10
Mourinho was pleased his work this week got Chelsea back to winning ways: “I’m happy with the performance and points. We improved a lot in the last two matches. Defensively the team was much better. The attacking players defended much better than before, they created a compact zone and reacted very well to the moments when they lost the ball. That gives great stability for the players behind.”
Wenger was typically livid: “Costa twice should be sent off. He hits him in the face in purpose. In every game he has aggravation and he gets away with it because of the weakness of the referee. We knew before the game he is only looking at that.”