Chelsea edge past spirited Arsenal
Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal
First-half goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard earned Chelsea a 2-1 victory against a spirited Arsenal side at Stamford Bridge.
Theo Walcott celebrated the signing of his new Gunners contract with a well-taken goal early in the second-half, but it wasn't enough for Arsene Wenger's side as the hosts held on to claim all three points.
It was an explosive start by Rafa Benitez's men, who broke the deadlock after only six minutes, when Cesar Azpilicueta's chipped ball forward, found fellow Spaniard, Mata, on the edge of the box, who proceeded to blast past helpless Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
That goal came straight from the visitors' first real attack, when Walcott slipped Olivier Giroud through on the left of the box, but his shot flew wide of Petr Cech's far post. And, Arsenal almost responded immediately when Santi Cazorla's 20-yard shot was parried out for a corner by Cech.
Chelsea started to take control of the game, and for the next 15 minutes, set siege on Arsenal's goal, with Eden Hazard missing perhaps the clearest chance, after the Belgian cleverly worked some space in the box, brushing past several defenders, only to see Szczesny tip his shot out for a corner.
In the 16th minute, the Blues doubled their lead when Ramires was fouled by Szczesny, after receiving the ball in acres of space in the Arsenal area. The Polish goalkeeper was shown a yellow card for the foul, while the Stamford Bridge faithful were calling for the player to be sent off.
Up stepped Lampard to score his ninth goal of the season, and 195th in a Chelsea shirt, also maintaining his 100 per cent penalty record this campaign, with his fourth Premier League spot-kick of 2012/13.
After an exciting first 20 minutes, filled with attacking, end-to-end football, the game petered out as Arsenal started to get a foothold on the match. Their possession stemmed the Chelsea flow, restricting Benitez's men to only a couple more opportunities, but without really creating anything of their own.
Then, moments before the break, all Arsenal's good work was nearly undone, when Jack Wilshere fouled Ramires with a clumsy challenge 25 yards out. However, Mata's free-kick fell to the feet of Fernando Torres, who wastefully skied high and wide over the bar.
After the interval, Arsenal came flying out the traps, with Per Mertesacker missing a good chance on 47 minutes, when Wilshere's free-kick landed at his feet. But, the German defender's shot went straight into the arms of the grateful Cech.
Walcott then fired another warning to Chelsea, when he broke free down the right. However, his tame, low-drilled shot was easily saved by the 30-year-old stopper in the Blues goal.
Kieran Gibbs also ran free down the left, but his perfectly chipped cross to the far post was met by a mistimed header from Giroud, who nodded straight into the hands of a thankful Cech.
Then, in the 58th minute Arsenal were back in the game when Cazorla played Walcott in clean through the middle. The England international cooly slotted past the outrushing Chelsea stopper, into the top right corner, giving the away side a lifeline.
Aaron Ramsey came on for the injured Francis Coquelin, and Chelsea responded by bringing on Ryan Bertrand for Oscar, before Demba Ba replaced Fernando Torres up front for the final ten minutes - a substitution that was met with cheers once again by the home fans.
The Senegalese striker made an instant impact, and breaking down the left he rounded Szczesny on the edge of the box, but saw his shot blocked by retreating captain Thomas Vermaelen, to keep the game tentatively poised at 2-1.
Ashley Cole was booked late on, following a trip on Bacary Sagna on the edge of the Chelsea box, as the Gunners continued to turn the screw, but the Blues did well to defend to the very end, after a flurry of late Arsenal corners.
The victory marked Chelsea's first home win of 2013 - and only their second in six attempts under the interim management of Benitez - keeping them in third place in the Premier League table, while Arsenal stay sixth, six points behind north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in fourth, who take on leaders Manchester United later on this afternoon.
Chelsea: Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Ramires Lampard; Oscar (Bertrand 72') Mata, Hazard (Marin 88'); Torres (Ba 80').
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Wilshere, Coquelin (Ramsey 59'), Diaby (Arshavin 79'); Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud.