Chelsea survived late Arsenal pressure to secure a potentially vital three points in the race for Champions League qualification with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Having failed to get a win in their three previous home matches in 2013, the pressure was firmly on Chelsea to avoid dropping points in the pursuit an all-important top-four spot. But Rafael Benitez’s side got the start of their dreams as Juan Mata’s strike and a penalty from Frank Lampard put them two goals to the good after just 16 minutes.
There will doubtless have been much concern as Arsenal performed better after the break and found a way back in to the match through Theo Walcott’s strike. But unlike against Southampton in their last outing at Stamford Bridge, this time Chelsea held on for the win.
Benitez made something of a surprise selection in his starting lineup by electing to go with the beleaguered Fernando Torres up front rather than in-form new signing Demba Ba. It was another Spaniard, though, and perhaps Chelsea’s player of the season who broke the deadlock with less than six minutes on the clock.
Francis Coquelin went down under challenge from Ramires claiming a foul just inside the Chelsea half, but play went on and Cesar Azpilicueta was allowed the freedom to stroll up field with the ball before picking out his countryman Mata in far too much space with a cross field ball. Mata took the ball down clinically before dispatching a rising shot past Wojciech Szczesny.
The second goal was not long in coming. As Chelsea canted into the box, Torres shifted the ball across goal for Ramires, who looked certain to score, but the Brazilian dallied and tried to round Sczesny before being tripped by the Arsenal stopper. A penalty was duly awarded and a red card only prevented by the presence of Arsenal defenders getting back on the line.
Lampard continued to be reliable from the spot as he slotted the ball to Szczesny’s left.
Arsenal finally began to assert themselves on proceedings after the restart and looked to be right back in the match as Walcott scored 11 minutes in to the second half. Santi Cazorla was the architect with a delightful pass to split the Chelsea defense and find Walcott breaking in from the right, who slotted the ball high past Petr Cech.
But unlike against Southampton, Chelsea’s two-goal lead would not completely evaporate as they admirably kept Arsenal at bay in the closing stages.