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Hazard, Costa fire Chelsea past Arsenal at Stamford Bridge

Paul Gilham

If you've been a Chelsea fan for a certain length of time, playing Arsenal will always create a sort of residual trauma. It wasn't Manchester United who scared us most pre-Abramovich, it was the Gunners, who routinely killed us in just about every way imaginable. It wasn't fun, and the struggles of the 90s still have an impact somewhere in the reptilian depths of my brain. Arsenal are scary, it says. We will screw it up.

Objectively, Arsenal are not scary and we were not going to screw it up, but that gave the game a certain stressful tinge that it probably didn't deserve. Sure, it wasn't a hilarious 6-0 blowout like last season -- this time the visitors forced us to beat them rather than shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly from kickoff -- but the Blues were in control top to bottom, and after Eden Hazard Eden Hazarded in the 26th minute there wasn't much real doubt about who'd go home with the points.

Arsene Wenger's not so good at learning new tricks, but it was obvious that they'd picked up something from the trio of batterings they suffered away at top-four teams last season. Instead of playing like Arsenal, the footballing equivalent of the young man who walks into university knowing he knows everything about everything, they opted for a saner, more cautious route, sitting deep and allowing Chelsea to hold possession in their own half.

This, of course, is a great way of avoiding getting utterly mauled on the counterattack, but also a pretty great way of letting Cesc Fabregas and Hazard slowly pick you apart. With the exception of Alexis Sánchez, Arsenal weren't looking at all dangerous, and the Chilean was a threat mostly to our goalkeepers -- he knocked Thibaut Courtois out of the match early on with his thigh and was given a good kicking by Gary Cahill by way of retaliation*.

*Yes, it could have been a red card for Cahill. But Wenger's reaction was little short of pathetic.

The visitors' midfield was sitting deep ahead of a very low defensive block, which meant that the centre of the pitch was too congested to pass through. Normal teams might have opted for an aerial bombardment targetting Laurent Koscielny, but Chelsea aren't a normal team. Instead, we turned to the league's premier lockpick: Eden Hazard.

When the Belgian is in full flow, he is impossible to tackle. He is, in fact, so impossible to tackle that both Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker didn't even manage to foul him despite doing their best, and after dodging those challenges the Belgian found himself bearing down on Koscielny in the Arsenal box. A leg was dangled, more than enough to bring Hazard down, and Martin Atkinson had no choice but to point to the spot. Koscielny somehow escaped a red card, but the goal was inevitable: Hazard waited for Wojciech Szczesny to commit and then rolled the ball into the opposite corner to make it 1-0.

The Gunners' reply was alarming. They swiftly worked their way through Chelsea's midfield, opening up a chance for the energetic Jack Wilshere to surge onto. Unfortuantely for Arsenal, Wilshere's touch failed to match his vision, and Cech (how good is it to have 100 percent confidence in your backup goalkeeper?) was off his line in a flash to smother the danger.

That, perhaps, was the only clear look on goal for the visitors all match. They spent a significant amount of time on the attack, but were always stymied at the last minute -- Chelsea defended magnificently and the centre backs were always alert to sweep away anything dangerous. Oscar, too, made his mark, flying all over the pitch to harass and harry anyone in a red shirt. The Arsenal defending, meanwhile, was less impressive: Calum Chambers, already on a yellow card for a foul on Hazard, brought down Schurrle at the edge of the box and was lucky not to be dismissed.

Chambers knew he was riding his luck and the threat of Hazard blowing him up rendered him completely useless defensively for the rest of the match. That led to several amusing scenes in the second half -- the Blues spend much of their time simply toying with the overmatched right back -- but on the whole, the match was fairly slow after the break. Chelsea were happy to sit back and look to catch the Gunners on the break, and Arsenal weren't committing enough bodies forward to overly worry Jose Mourinho.

Things began to change with 15 minutes to go, when Fabregas started sending balls over the top for Diego Costa to chase. The big forward, who'd been kept quiet for most of the match, now burst into life, picking off three defenders before threading a pass for Hazard to blast ... over the top. There had been an earlier scare which saw Mathieu Flamini nearly turn a Hazard cross into the net only to be rescued by Szczesny, but Costa's arrival was a more ominous development.

Naturally, Arsenal completely ignored it.

The game was over two minutes later. Koscielny and Mertesacker stepped up a fraction too late, and Fabregas picked out Costa's run with a sumptuous 50-yard pass. The striker took it on his chest and contemptuously lobbed over the onrushing goalkeeper to wrap things up.

There was time for a few more incidents. Danny Welbeck took injury time to its etymological conclusion by doing his best to break Fabregas's legs right in front of our manager (he wasn't sent off for the two-footed tackle -- at least the referee was consistent), and Costa managed to miss an open goal from inside the six-yard box as time ticked down. Don't worry, he was offside anyway.

And that would be that. Not quite as glorious as last year, but worth just as many points and, if the post-match comments from Wenger are any guide, almost as demoralising. Chelsea are now five points clear at the top of the table, and although it's only October, if we can keep this up we're in very good shape.

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