Chelsea completed the double over Arsenal in a tense game at Stamford Bridge.
Juan Mata and then Frank Lampard put Chelsea two-up going into the interval, but Theo Walcott’s goal in the second half meant Chelsea had to hold out until the very end.
It was a case of whoever was more efficient won in an incredibly even match, with Chelsea having 64% of possession in the first half, with Arsenal having 65% in the second half.
But capitalising on their chances proved Arsenal’s downfall, as Chelsea strengthen their grip on a Champions League spot for next season.
It was a must-win game for Rafael Benitez. With the joint-lowest win percentage of all managers in the Abramovich era in the first 16 games, coupled with the fact Chelsea have won just one of their last six London derbies at home, it was vitally important Chelsea got off to the right start.
As it so very nearly went horribly wrong, has Giroud been more clinical in front of goal four minutes in. With space, the Frenchman could only watch as his left-foot drive flashed past Cech’s post.
Chelsea’s frontman, meanwhile, was Fernando Torres, sporting a new haircut in the snow. Demba Ba, after scoring two against today’s opposition just three weeks ago, was benched in place of the Spaniard, who did score in the memorable eight-goal thriller last term.
But after the initial scare, it was Juan Mata who did make full use of his opportunity.
Cesar Azpilicueta’s pinpoint cross was gloriously controlled by Juan Mata, who then rifled into the roof of the Arsenal net.
It was wonderful interplay from the two Spaniards, with Azpilicueta further cementing his place in the Chelsea right-back berth. As for Juan Mata, his goal took him up to 14 for the season, joint top scorer with Fernando Torres.
There have been a staggering 111 goals in 20 years of this fixture between these two rivals, and after that early set-back by Arsenal, the onus was on them to test Cech’s goal.
Chelsea have scored first in 13 of their last 20 home games, winning ten and losing none of them, so the pressure was really on for the North London club.
But with this early high, Benitez too had to make sure Chelsea did not drop points from a commanding position, for the Blues have failed to be the likes of QPR, Southampton, Fulham and Swansea at home.
Mata completed 43 passes today, more than any other player, and it was one of his that contributed to the next goal. His neat pass to Ramires found the Brazilian in acres of space, but sensing he could milk more than just a goal out of the one-on-one opportunity, the former Benfica man opted to go around Szczesny, drawing the yellow card out of Atkinson’s pocket.
Frank Lampard stepped up and scored, to now be just eight goals shy of Bobby Tambling, and even if the veteran is not offered a new contract for beyond the summer, there is serious optimism for him to break the landmark well before his time is up.
The Blues have lost twice at home in the league this season, but not from a winning position.
Giroud and Mertesacker did their best to pull a goal back for the visitors, but to no avail.
The game did spark back into life just before the hour-mark, however.
Santi Carzola’s defence-piercing ball found Walcott, who lofted the ball into the top corner past Cech.
Just before that, Chelsea could have been out of sight, when Fernando Torres summed up his entire Chelsea career thus far in five seconds.
Sprinting past Vermaelen with tremendous pace, all the Spaniard had to do was fire one towards goal, but a heavy second touch put pay to any chance of wrapping up the game. Could it prove costly?
Demba Ba was introduced eventually, and he had a near identical opportunity. Like Torres, the forward went down the left wing. But unlike Torres, the Senegalese man rounded Szczesny, only to see Vermaelen make a goal-line clearance.
In truth, had Torres missed that, the papers would have ridiculed him. But some will argue that Ba deserves a reprieve having scored three goals in four appearances for Chelsea, when it took Torres 25 to do the same.
And still Arsenal huffed and puffed and knocked on the Chelsea door. The Gunners had nine corners in the match, with five in the last three minutes.
First Gary Cahill, then Ashley Cole, then Petr Cech were all able to clear to safety, before Giroud lifted his header over the net.
Indeed, Arsenal have scored nine times in the final ten minutes of their Premier League matches this season, but there was to be no late drama this time round, as the European Champions could retain bragging rights for another season.matches this season.