Chelsea made amends for September’s heavy 3-0 defeat to Arsenal with a 3-1 victory of their own to cement their position at the top of the table.
Goals by Alonso and Fabregas came either side of a spectacular solo goal by Eden Hazard, before Olivier Giroud scored a consolation in injury time, but it was not enough to stop Chelsea moving 12 points clear — at least temporarily — at the top of the table.
It avenges defeat for Conte, who switched formation after losing this reverse fixture, that at the time led to his side being three points behind today’s visitors, only to find this victory surely kill off any of Arsenal’s title hopes this time round.
The Gunners have lost their last four games at Stamford Bridge, conceding 12 goals and scoring just one, and with referee Martin Atkinson having refereed four of these ties with each and every one resulting in a Chelsea win, the omens were not good with the Gunners this Saturday lunch-time.
Despite this, Arsenal are the only side Chelsea have not scored against this season, and when early mistakes crept into Chelsea’s play, for example a loose ball by Courtois to Luiz which was intercepted by Ozil, Iwobi then had a good chance to put his side in front.
It was a fast opening 10 minutes, with Arsenal’s top three in their 4-3-3 formation (Ozil, Sanchez and Walcott) harrying Chelsea’s back three in their 3-4-3 formation (Cahill, Luiz and Azpilicueta), and especially keen to make amends for their mid-week loss to Watford.
Regardless of Cahill’s defensive duties though, the Englishman had the chance to break the deadlock from a free-kick, but despite the free header, headed too lowly to trouble Cech.
Where Cahill could not break the deadlock, one of his defensive partners Marcos Alonso could. Stunning work down the right by Moses and Pedro say the ball floated in, and when Costa charged in and beat his marker, his bullet header cannoned back off the crossbar. A moment of panic ensued but Alonso raced in ahead of Bellerin to power home the game’s first goal, with the Spaniard having to depart the game due to his troubles.
Moments later, Costa was in again but culd only find the side-netting, whilst Hazard drew the game’s first yellow card after a cynical foul by Mustafi. Pedro’s free-kick was cleared, but the link-up play between him, Hazard and Costa was sublime and warranted another goal, none more so than when, from an Arsenal free-kick, Hazard countered and Costa, had he looked up, should have played in Pedro who was in acres of space; instead the attack was smothered.
Pedro then took a shot for himself which spun deceptively for Cech, who bundled the ball away for a corner, but his side did begin to cause damage at the other end. A quick free-kick saw Sanchez nearly feed in Walcott, whilst Gabriel and Coquelin both had chances from two corners. The best of the lot nearly came from Ozil, who found the ball after Matic was dispossessed. The German cut back on his left-foot but opted to go for Courtois’ near post, which he had covered, rather than try the more ambitious far post.
But it was still Cech’s former side in command and this continued into the second half.
The Blues have won eight successive home league matches, scoring 24 times and conceding just three, so it was understandable they were not keen to lose the record. Hazard was nearly through, but Koscielny had the run on him, and moments later the Belgian should have again done better from a Kante pass.
Fear not, as the Belgian would eventually take one of these chances and score what turned out to be a quite spectacular goal.
Collecting the ball from within his own half, the Belgian ran menacingly at Arsenal, planting Coquelin firmly on his backside, ringing Kocielny round in circles before walking it in past Cech. It was a great advantage goal by Martin Atkinson as Hazard was fouled on multiple occasions when racing past four Arsenal defenders, but for a man who has not had a shot on target in the past three games, it was a special goal.
Costa wanted to join in on the fun and was nearly in had he perfected his scissor-kick technique from a Moses cross, whilst again from another counter Hazard could not find Pedro.
There was still fire in Arsenal’s belly, under the watchful eye of Arsene Wenger from the directors’ box serving the third of his four-game ban, as shown by an Iwobi cross and successive headed opportunities by Welbeck and Mustafi.
As the game neared its conclusion, Conte decided to shore up his line-up by bringing on Fabregas, Willian and Zouma, but indeed the former put the game beyond all doubt.
Against his former side, the Spaniard collected a terrible clearance by Cech, who himself was playing his former side, and the 29-year-old simply lobbed the ball into an empty net. Respectfully, Fabregas decided not to celebrate.
One of Wenger’s late chances himself scored a goal, Olivier Giroud, powering a header in deep into injury time. Chelsea have kept 13 clean sheets in the league this season, a joint-high in the top five European leagues with Paris St-Germain, but it was not to be 14, even if the points were well secured.
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Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: Every Chelsea player meant business today, and the work of Kante and Azpilicueta can never be under-estimated, but to win you still need someone to pull the strings and it was the second goal, and more so the manner of it, that killed off all Arsenal life in the game. The way the Belgian glided past four Arsenal men, and then slotted coolly past Cech, will surely be a Goal of the Season contender. 8/10
Conte was in fine voice: “It was an important game. I consider Arsenal one of the six teams that can fight for the title until the end of the season. To put them 12 points behind is very important for us. I am very pleased for my players. In every session they show me great attitude and great will to fight and win this league.”
Wenger was complimentary: “Chelsea are in a very strong position. They look solid, difficult to beat and we needed to be better today. They don’t lose against the big teams and that is always the secret to win a championship.”