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Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: Mata & Lampard Secure Win Despite Arsenal Rally

Match report: Chelsea held on to secure a rare 3 points at home in the Premier League under Rafael Benitez, beating London rivals Arsenal 2-1 at Stamford Bridge

Goalscorers Juan Mata and Frank Lampard celebrate with their team mates

Chelsea held on to secure a rare 3 points at home in the Premier League under Rafael Benitez, beating London rivals Arsenal 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Juan Mata opened the scoring within six minutes for the Blues, blasting home from near range before Frank Lampard converted from the penalty spot. Ramires was alleged to have been tripped by on-rushing goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who was shown a yellow-card for the offence and Lampard scored with assurance from the resulting penalty. Theo Walcott pulled a goal back for the visitors just before the hour-mark, coolly slotting past Petr Cech having latched on to Santi Cazorla’s precise through-ball, but despite the resurgence in their performance, the Gunner’s could not find the equaliser.

The home win will delight the Stamford Bridge faithful, having witnessed the Blues fail to win in their previous three home matches in 2013. But it will no doubt induce relief in interim boss Benitez who has come under fire for tinkering with the Blues starting XI at the Bridge and dropping points against, QPR and Southampton.

The miss-firing Fernando Torres was reinstated into the first team line up in place of recent signing Demba Ba who was recruited from Newcastle United this month and Branislav Ivanovich replaced David Luiz in just two changes to Wednesday’s disappointing 2-2 draw with Southampton.

Despite the Gunner’s being afforded the first chance of the game four minutes in, Chelsea dominated a first half where Arsenal were second best. Walcott played Oliver Giroud through on goal and despite being forced wide the Frenchman still managed a decent effort on goal. The shot was dragged wide, the chance gone, and so with it Arsenal’s last real threat on goal until the second half.

It didn’t take long for Chelsea to capitalise on the Arsenal defence’s slack marking, taking an early lead through Mata. The visitors were still furious with referee Martin Atkinson for not giving what they felt was a foul in the centre circle by Ramires on Francis Coquelin. As a result, half of the men in red appeared to stop, and rather than worry about the whereabouts of the lurking Mata, felt obliged to continue their appeals. But Cesar Azpilicueta, picking up the loose ball from the challenge, played a delightful long ball which Mata controlled behind the Arsenal back line before firing beyond Szczesny.

The home side continued to press, and the link up between the Blues’ midfield and the attacking trio of Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar was causing Arsenal problems. In fairness to the visitors, Cazorla did respond with a fierce effort from distance which Cech beat away, but it was a rare occasion when the red shirts flooded the blue half of the pitch.

Hazard went close with an angled shot after weaving his way through a minefield of Gunners and the Belgian was a constant thorn in Wenger’s side. It was not only direct running which unsettled the visitors, but Chelsea’s harassment high up the pitch and this tactic appeared to pay off when Ramires, having robbed an under pressure Abou Diaby in his own half, sought to finish off the resulting attack before being tripped by Szczesny. The Pole was only given a yellow card for his foul, saved from red by the fact there were red shirts back on the line, but there was nothing he could do to stop Chelsea doubling their lead when Lampard dispatched confidently, sending the Pole the wrong way.

There was still a long way to go till the break and Arsenal can only thank a slice of fortune that they did not go in on 45 minutes conceding by a greater number. Chelsea were almost devastating as an attacking force and were it not for the troubled Torres- who sliced over from close range- it could so easily have been more. It may have been luck that kept the deficit at just two goals, but it was sheer class that gave Arsenal a foot-hold in this game when Walcott pulled a goal back.

Cazorla was the architect, threading a needle-like through ball beyond two-banks of Chelsea, and Walcott provided the end product with a sumptuous finish. It signalled life in this Arsenal side, a side who left the pitch at half time a wounded animal, and like so many home games recently Chelsea began to look uneasy.

The tables had been turned and Arsenal spurned a host of chances to draw level, first Thomas Vermaelan firing just wide with a speculative free-kick. Goalscorer Walcott was  thendenied by a last ditch Gary Cahill tackle before Giroud headed wide with the clock ticking away. Chelsea, though, were still creating chances and as has been quite typical of late, they were still wasting them. Torres in particular was found guilty of this after not getting his shot away early enough, whilst even Ba (introduced for the last 10 minutes in Torres’ place) could not guarantee the win.

But the Blues held out in a nervy finish and stopped their recent poor record at home from souring further under Benitez. Unfortunately, as a result of recent disappointments, the 3 points only consolidates their placing in third: 4 points clear of Spurs, yet 6 points adrift of second placed Manchester City. It’s never too late to stop the rut of bad results, but it may be too late to stop the Manchester front-runners in their Premier League title pursuit.

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