Chelsea Reinforced Their Premier League Title Credentials Against Arsenal
Arsenal had their chances, but it was Chelsea who prevailed in the battle of North and Southwest London, with Roberto Di Matteo's team taking a 2-1 victory at the Emirates to maintain their position atop the Premier League.
This was a big, big win for the Blues—one that was just about deserved on the balance of play and further enforced their credentials as genuine title challengers to Manchester City and Manchester United.
Di Matteo went bold with his selection. He started with the flair-infused trio of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar behind Fernando Torres and tasked his team with outplaying Arsenal at their fast and fluid passing game.
It was Torres who put Chelsea ahead, hooking a leg around Laurent Koscielny to volley home from an excellent Mata free kick on 20 minutes. El Nino now has three goals in his last four Premier League games and impressed against Arsenal with his work-rate and overall contribution.
Questions will be asked of Koscielny's defending, and Arsenal may well have survived had the imposing Abou Diaby not left the field as a result of a depressingly predictable injury. The ball should never have made its way to the Spaniard.
To their credit, Arsenal responded positively and deserved their equalizer on 42 minutes, when the reborn Gervinho turned sharply to fire into the roof of the net after receiving a pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsene Wenger's team suddenly looked capable of taking the fight to Chelsea, but they were undone by another defensive lapse early in the second half. Mata's free kick was allowed to drift inside the six-yard box, where Koscielny's touch only encouraged the ball past the helpless Vito Mannone and in.
Chelsea were back in front. And it was now time for Di Matteo's defensive organization to come to the fore, as his well-drilled unit got behind the ball and made it difficult for Arsenal to break them down.
The Gunners probed, and chances arrived, but Petr Cech was on hand to parry Lukas Podolski's header and make an even better save to deny Olivier Giroud's deflected shot.
Meanwhile, Chelsea looked increasingly dangerous on the break. Mata, Torres and Hazard were ready to pounce on every possession, and Di Matteo's team had several opportunities to put the game to bed.
The game was still in the balance as we entered additional time, where Arsenal missed their best chance to equalize. Giroud was played in by Santi Cazorla and, having delayed his finish, shot into the side-netting with only Ashley Cole on the goal line for Chelsea.
The Frenchman's poor start to life at Arsenal is indicative or his team's all-round profligacy, and it's games like this that make Robin van Persie's departure all the more harder to bear for Gunners fans.
Arsene Wenger has defensive concerns too—not least if he has to cope with Diaby in coming matches, having sold Alex Song to Barcelona. The return of Jack Wilshere will be a boost, but after such a lengthy layoff, it seems unlikely Wilshere will take up where he left off.
Chelsea, meanwhile, could barely have got off to a better start this season. The European champions have taken 16 points from their opening six games and remain unbeaten in the Premier League.
They've beaten Newcastle and Arsenal, and they have conceded just three times. Mata, Torres and Hazard are all thriving, and Di Matteo's men are making a convincing argument they can steal the title away from Manchester this season.
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