There have been more comfortable 2-0 victories, but it's hard to find fault with a side that beats a team as good as Arsenal by a two goal margin. Arsene Wenger might point out a flurry of missed chances for the away side as the catalyst for the loss, but in truth the further Arsenal pressed, the more dangerous were Chelsea's ripostes. Arsenal did dominate possession for long spells of the game and were unlucky not to score, but for every good chance for the Gunners there was a better one for the Blues.
Arsenal's visit to Stamford Bridge was well-timed as far as the champions were concerned. The casualty list for Wenger's side included captain Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, and Manuel Almunia - argauably their best players in every band. For Chelsea, the only major absentee was Frank Lampard, although injuries to both Salomon Kalou and Yossi Benayoun did little to help the squad's depth.
Arsenal vs. Chelsea has been one of the Premier League's top matchs in recent years, as the quality of the teams has made no difference to their willingness to attack each other. Today was no different, as we got a display of power and pace from the Blues while Arsenal wove some intricate patterns with their beautiful one-touch football.
The game, surprising absolutely nobody, started off with a bang. The visiting side deployed their midfielders very high up the pitch in order to press and unsettle Chelsea's core, and it was looking mostly successful at the very beginning, as Arsenal dominated possesison for the first fifteen minutes with some pretty good chances to show for it. They did look vulnerable to quick counterattacks, however, and Chelsea sprung a couple of peaches in the early going - but it was Andrei Arshavin who had the best chance of the opening half hour as he fizzed a long-range shot into the top corner only to be denied by Petr Cech.
Didier Drogba was the man widely tipped to be the difference between the two sides and he was responsible for the opening goal. After Ramires had robbed Alex Song (possibly fouling him in the process), the ball was fed to Ashley Cole, who was being totally ignored by the Arsenal defence. The left-back centred the ball for Drogba, who was being marked tightly and looked unlikely to have the time to turn and shoot. So instead of turning and shooting, Drogba pulled some kind of double pirouette backheel move that froze Lukasz Fabianski, bounced off the near post, and rolled into the net. It was 1-0 to Chelsea and suddenly Arsenal were making silly errors, and worse, being injured by some crunching (and dubiously legal *cough* Florent Malouda *cough*) tackles on Chelsea's part. By the time the interval arrived Arsenal looked in serious danger of being played off the pitch.
Fortunately for the visitors, they came out in the second half with real intent, pegging Chelsea back from the start. The home side rarely had possession, and even when they did they were apt to give the ball straight back to a red shirt. Crosses and shots came flying it, and it was up to John Terry and Alex to mop things up as best they could. However for all of Arsenal's chances (the best of which involved Marouane Chamakh flashing a header barely wide), it was actually Chelsea who squandered an open goal and had appeals for a penalty bizarrely turned down. Nicolas Anelka could and should have wrapped the match up after robbing Sebastian Squillaci and rounding Fabianski, but rolled his angle finish into the side netting at the near post, and then Didier Drogba was cut down by Laurent Koscielny in the box when the Frenchman was trying to stop the striker turning inside to shoot. Ashley Cole, who was very dangerous in his rare forays forward, also had a goal (rightly) disallowed for offside.
It was the story of the second half. Arsenal attacking with menace, last ditch defending by the Blues, and the very occassional breakaway from the home side that looked far more dangerous than anything the visitors were cooking up. Bizarrely, though, the second goal didn't come from a counterattack but a rather routine free kick in the middle of the pitch.
Chelsea fans are used to seeing Lampard and Drogba standing over free kicks when the ball is within shooting range, but with Lampard out injury, it was Alex's turn to have a crack. The Brazillian nearly broke the post in half when he took a shot against Marseille from similar range, but he didn't find the post this time - he rocketed a shot through the gap in the wall left by Malouda, and the ball promptly bent up and away from Fabianski and ended up in the top corner, nearly taking the net with it. It was an absolutely stunning shot, hit with such power and precision that it was completely unsaveable. With five minutes left, Chelsea were up by two, and Arsenal essentially gave up.
Not much else of note happened in the match but there were a couple of withdrawels on Chelsea's part: John Obi Mikel, who had been great in midfield, went off with cramp to be replaced by Daniel Sturridge, while Alex appeared to hurt his groin and had to leave the field with no substitute available, forcing the Blues to play a few minutes with just ten men and Drogba to be drafted in as a centre-back. By then, though, the game was won, and Chelsea were four points clear at the top of the table yet again.
A good day's work.