Scroll to photostream above left for match photos. For stats, click on the statistics tab. Match reaction below.
Chelsea dented Arsenal’s top-four hopes with a 2-1 victory in a topsy-turvy Barclays Premier League match in snowy conditions at Stamford Bridge.
In a dominant first half Chelsea led 2-0 thanks to goals from Juan Mata and a Frank Lampard penalty but Arsenal fought back after the break and halved the deficit through Theo Walcott’s goal. Under late pressure from the visiting side Chelsea hung on to move five points clear of Tottenham Hotspur, who play Manchester United later in the day.
Chelsea dominated the opening period but a minute after Olivier Giroud had missed a chance to put Arsenal in front, shooting wide after being released by Theo Walcott, Mata punished the miss. Played clear by Cesar Azpilicueta's crossfield pass from the right, the Spain midfielder controlled the ball well before lashing it left-footed into the roof of the net.
Chelsea continued to dominate and doubled their lead ten minutes later on the counter-attack as Mata played in Ramires, who was brought down by Wojciech Szczesny while trying to round the Pole. The Arsenal goalkeeper was booked and could not prevent Lampard scoring from the spot.
The first half continued in much the same vein with Arsenal offering little threat. Ramires had a chance to extend Chelsea’s lead but blasted over having worked himself an opening on the right, while Fernando Torres did similar after the ball had fallen to him at a free-kick a minute before half-time.
After the break Arsenal immediately put pressure on the home side and Per Mertesacker had a chance to score but could direct his shot only at Petr Cech, who was then tested by Walcott. Thirteen minutes into the second half Arsenal’s pressure was rewarded when Santi Cazorla played in Walcott who coolly finished past Cech. Arsenal continued to pressure but Chelsea’s defence held firm.
Shortly after coming on for Torres, Demba Ba had a chance to seal the match for Chelsea with seven minutes remaining but, having rounded Szczesny, his shot was cleared off the line by Thomas Vermaelen.
The Arsenal captain had a chance to equalise with a free-kick two minutes later but sent his effort wide, while a Giroud header in injury-time looped on to the roof of the net. The defeat meant Arsenal remain in sixth on 34 points, six points behind Spurs in fourth before their match.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez: "I'm happy because we were creating a lot of chances at home in the last few games. We weren't winning, but we were controlling the matches. Today, we had a lot of chances in the first half and we were on top of them. Even in the second half when they were pushing and pushing, we had a lot of situations on the counter-attack where we could have scored again.
“Everybody was working very hard. Juan Mata and Fernando [Torres] were sending the ball to the right players which allowed us to press and stop them playing football, and afterwards we brought Demba Ba on who held the ball up very well.
“Winning against a top side is always important. When you are in the top four, and you want to be sure of staying in the top four, Arsenal are one of the biggest rivals. At the moment we are doing well, we are progressing and if we get three points in our next game it will be fantastic.
“We didn't have many options [in midfield] as David [Luiz] couldn't play, so in the end we were left with [Frank] Lampard and Ramires in the middle, and we knew that would be the key area 'We tried to manage in the wide areas with fresh legs but it's not easy when you don't have too many specific players in these positions, but the team did well and I was pleased for them.
“The club has an agreement [for an extra year] with [Ashley Cole], so we are really pleased. The paperwork is still to be done but the agreement is there.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “Chelsea played well and we were not well positioned on the pitch [in the first half]. We were too stretched and individually gave them too much room to play. We didn’t defend tight enough. We were always allowing them to play when they wanted.
“It’s similar to last week [against Manchester City]. After you discover that a team has fantastic quality and spirit. We come into the game when we’re 2-0 down. That’s worrying of course, because in the big games, once you start at 2-0 down, it’s very difficult.
“We didn’t play well in the first half. In the second half we came out with a different spirit, a different attitude and were much more dangerous and dominated the whole second half. Unfortunately, we didn’t come back. It’s very damaging for our position in the league and very difficult to swallow. We have lost two big games in the last week and that’s very damaging for us. We cannot afford to drop points anymore if we want to be in the top four. It’s a concern.”
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|02 Feb 2013||v Newcastle (A)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Wigan (H)|
|24 Feb 2013||v Man City (A)|
|02 Mar 2013||v West Brom (H)|
|17 Mar 2013||v West Ham (H)|