Chelsea beat Arsenal 2-1 at Emirates Stadium to stay top of the Premier League and maintain their unbeaten start to the domestic season.
John Terry's every touch was booed enthusiastically by the home fans in light of his impending four-match ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, but he ended up on top as Chelsea won a lively London derby.
Goals from Fernando Torres and Juan Mata did the damage, although Arsenal gave them a hand as their inability to defend set pieces was exposed for a second weekend running.
Gervinho was on target for the Gunners, who had lengthy spells of possession but were unable to create enough chances as Petr Cech only made two saves of note all match, although substitute Olivier Giroud hit the woodwork before putting a good opportunity wide in injury time.
It was Arsenal’s first defeat of the campaign, while their Chelsea hoodoo continues: the Blues are the first team to beat Arsene Wenger’s side three times in a row in the Premier League at the Emirates.
A frantic first half finished even as both sides attacked with vigour, Chelsea getting the better of the opening exchanges as Torres netted his 75th career Premier League goal at the expense of Laurent Koscielny and co.
Last weekend the Gunners’ zonal marking was criticised as they conceded to Manchester City at a set-piece, but their failure to attack the ball was at fault then as it was now, although their man-marking was exposed this time.
A superbly weighted Mata free-kick saw Koscielny fail in his task as a man-marker, allowing Torres to hook a leg around his torso and flick an improvised finish past Vito Mannone.
It was not all Koscielny’s fault as the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who had just entered play following another injury to poor Abou Diaby – allowed David Luiz and John Terry the freedom of the box before Torres’s intervention.
While a lapse in organisation was at play, it was a deserved goal in the sense that Chelsea - with three attacking midfielders - had pressed and harried Arsenal from the off, their style of chasing and clever passing echoing that of Barcelona.
Chelsea should have gone 2-0 up when Koscielny fluffed his lines under pressure from Torres, who went clean through but – in electing to round Mannone instead of finish directly – fell over under pressure from the chasing centre-back.
The Spaniard wanted a penalty but the minimal contact was a result of his swinging boot catching Koscielny’s as opposed to any intent on the defender’s part.
The hosts responded well, using overlapping full-backs Keiran Gibbs and the excellent Carl Jenkinson to great effect as they launched waves of attacks.
Gervinho, leading the line as Giroud watched on, should have done better with a far-post header from Lukas Podolski’s driven cross, the Ivorian’s effort across goal well-fielded by Terry.
Chelsea were dangerous on the break, Torres just offside as he finished from a sweet Mata through ball, but Arsenal’s equaliser was always on the cards.
Jenkinson, who has taken to his attacking right-back role with gusto and surprise given his shaky displays last season, was involved in much of Arsenal’s forward play and it was one of his runs that saw Oxlade-Chamberlain released down the right.
His low ball picked out Gervinho, who turned before firing an unstoppable effort into the top right, a finish out of keeping with the Ivorian’s oft-disappointing end product.
There was still time for Torres to find the side netting after a counter attack that marked Chelsea’s increased tendency to sit deeper into half-time.
The second half continued with the pattern of Arsenal possession and Chelsea counters, with the visitors more effective than the hosts, whose afternoon was typified by Cazorla’s wild finish from a good spot, one of many poor shots from the talented Spaniard.
Chelsea were soon back in front as Mata again showed his quality with the dead ball, this time swinging it beyond everyone bar the lunging Koscielny, who got a touch as it flew past Mannone to the bottom left. The ball was on target so Mata was credited with the goal, but ball-watching Arsenal again should have dealt with it.
Arsenal responded with possession-driven attacks but it was worth nothing that Cech made his first proper save just before the hour mark, tipping a Lukas Podolski header over.
Jenkinson and Gibbs were leading the charge at will but, despite some dangerous crosses, Arsenal were second to the ball in the vital areas.
Giroud and Theo Walcott were brought into the fold but the former, for all his undoubted effort, looks short of the quality required to be a main striker at this level.
He inadvertently came close to a leveller when his low shot took a huge deflection off David Luiz, but Cech palmed it wide for a corner, while a flicked header from a corner touched the woodwork, although a flag went up in the melee.
Chelsea had men behind the ball but still countered with intent, sub Victor Moses close to a spectacular half-volleyed goal that dipped just over.
Arsenal were throwing everything at the Blues, who tried to run it into the corner at every opportunity, although the hosts still carved out enough chances to grab a point. Cazorla smacked one high and wide when he should have at least made Cech work, while in stoppage time Giroud showed poor composure when put through by the aforementioned Spain midfielder, taking an extra touch wide before hammering his finish into the side netting.
Chelsea’s win – their first in 33 against Arsenal without Didier Drogba in the team – cements their claim to being the form side in England, while Arsenal must look to bounce back from disappointment, an inability to do so having marked recent seasons.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Juan Mata (Chelsea) – His dead-ball delivery is second-to-none and the Spaniard was on song today, creating the first and scoring the second as he exploited Arsenal’s hesitancy at set pieces.
ARSENAL: Mannone 6, Jenkinson 7, Koscielny 5, Vermaelen 6, Gibbs 7, Arteta 6, Diaby 6, Cazorla 6, Ramsey 5, Gervinho 7, Podolski 6; Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Walcott 6, Giroud 5
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Ivanovic 6, Luiz 6, Terry 7, Cole 6, Ramires 7, Mikel 6, Mata 7, Oscar 6, Hazard 6, Torres 7; Subs: Cahill N/A, Bertrand N/A, Moses 6
- Fernando Torres
- Juan Mata