Mata Proves the Difference as Chelsea Edge out Arsenal

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20:  Juan Mata of Chelsea looks through the snow during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on January 20, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

We posed the question earlier this week if Mata would prove to be the "Juan" for Chelsea in their Premier League clash with Arsenal and so it proved.

The Spaniard was the difference as the Blues overcome a plucky Arsenal at Stamford Bridge to give Rafa Benitez just his third home victory since becoming Chelsea manager in November.

Indeed, it took all of six minutes for Mata to make his mark on the game, latching onto Cesar Azpilicueta's diagonal pass before smashing home beyond Wojciech Szczesny to give the Blues an early lead.

It was one-way traffic for much of the first half, too, as Chelsea looked to make amends for allowing a two-goal lead to slip midweek against Southampton.

Eden Hazard and Oscar were proving difficult to pick up, while Ramires and Frank Lampard were marshaling the midfield behind them.

But for all their dominance, it was Mata who stood out as a cut above the rest. His movement was exceptional once more and his ability to sniff out danger saw him ghost beyond Bacary Sagna for Chelsea's first, sneaking into the space the Frenchman had vacated to arrive unmarked in the box.

Chelsea had Arsenal on the ropes for much of the first half, and it was Mata who was throwing all the punches, finding space and bringing his teammates into the action as Ramires won the penalty which Lampard calmly placed to Szczesny's left to double Chelsea's lead.

It was a different story after the interval as Mata's opposite number Santi Cazorla became a key figure for Arsenal and he set up Theo Walcott's to score with an exceptional through ball, but Chelsea were still a threat and whenever they showed signs of adding a third, it was mainly Mata who was the fulcrum of everything going forward.

Contrary to Jack Wilshere's comments in the Evening Standard in the build-up to this match, given how Mata has once again proved Arsenal's undoing, surely it's the Gunners who don't like facing the Blues and their Spanish maestro in particular.

Sunday's 2-1 win means Chelsea have now beaten Arsenal home and away by the same scoreline this term, with Mata directly involved in three of their four goals, scoring twice himself.

And the pendulum has certainly swung in Chelsea's favor in the past decade or so. From three victories over the Gunners from 1996 to 2004, their past 21 meetings since 2004/05 have seen Chelsea win 12 times, with Arsenal claiming just four wins themselves.

It's a worrying statistic for any Arsenal fan and with Juan Mata in their ranks, one suspects Chelsea's excellent run will continue all the more.