Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Wilshere, Flamini, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck
Subs: Martinez, Monreal, Coquelin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Podolski
Arsenal’s wretched run of results against Chelsea continued at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho’s side ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. In a scrappy opening half the Blues took the lead through Eden Hazard’s penalty after the Belgian was felled by Laurent Koscielny. In the second half Arsenal continued to probe but were made to pay for their tepid play in the final third when Diego Costa latched onto a Fabrgeas through ball to double the home side’s lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Arsene Wenger made only one change from the starting XI that demolished Galatasaray with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench in favour of Jack Wilshere. On the bench Emi Martinez replaced David Ospina, while Nacho Monreal also made a welcome return after a back problem.
Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes due to flare-related trouble both inside and outside the ground, the travelling Gooners seemingly ‘inspired’ by events at the Emirates in midweek. Their ranks still looked a little depleted by the time the game started.
The opening fifteen minutes were very cagey, each side happy to maintain possession of the ball without committing too many players forward. Alexis Sanchez threatened with a long range shot that flashed by Thibaut Courtois’ post and the Chilean then clattered into the Belgian on ten minutes in a clash that eventually led to him being subbed in favour of Petr Cech. It did take 12 minutes for the decision to be made by the Chelsea management, somewhat making a mockery of the new rulings on concussion.
Gary Cahill’s challenge on Alexis Sanchez had the Arsenal bench up in arms on 19 minutes. The England defender picked up a booking while the boss and Jose Mourinho indulged in a shoving match on the touchline. Both managers received a talking to from referee Martin Atkinson and the resentment transferred to the pitch.
It was Chelsea who picked up the tempo. Chambers was handed his fifth booking of the season – he’ll miss the visit of Hull – trying to tidy up a mess made by Wilshere before Eden Hazard took the game by the scruff of the neck, showing fleet of foot to bamboozle Chambers before rounding Laurent Koscielny who upended him in the box. It was a clear penalty and the Frenchman was further punished with a caution. Hazard calmly slotted home the penalty after giving Szczesny the eyes.
Arsenal laboured in response. Winning the ball wasn’t a problem, but doing anything of merit once we had it proved somewhat more challenging. Jack Wilshere looked well placed to get a shot off after a dart into the box only for a heavy touch to ruin the moment while Mesut Ozil was repeatedly guilty of dilly-dallying on the ball.
Chambers was lucky to stay on the pitch in the moments before half-time. Left exposed by a Koscielny pitch charge the right-back was on his own against Andre Schurrle and used his body to prevent the German from cutting in off the left as he reached the box. Thankfully nothing came of the resulting set piece.
The second period was as scrappy as the first with Arsenal unsucessfully probing and Chelsea opting to hit us on the break.
On 57 minutes another Eden Hazard run caused havoc for the Gunners defence as his low hard crossed was deflected goalwards by Mathieu Flamini. Wojciech Szczesny had to throw out a strong right hand to flick it onto the post and out for a corner. The Frenchman lay on the ground looking very relieved.
At the other end Cazorla flashed wide and there was an optimistic penalty shout when Fabregas appeared to block a Wilshere shot with his hand. Chelsea thrived on choking the Gunners and clear cut chances for the visitors were sorely lacking. Probe after probe was rebuffed.
Looking to liven things up, a very unhappy Cazorla was subbed off in favour of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil was shuffled into a more central position. It was harsh on the Spaniard who’d been one of our better performers.
As Arsenal pushed forward so the pace of Hazard became ever more important to the home side. After fine hold up play by Costa the Belgian nearly grabbed a second as he fired over after another sprightly run into the box.
With 14 minutes remaining Costa doubled Chelsea’s lead. The damage was done by Fabregas whose fine lofted ball deceived Koscielny and as the Spanish striker bore down on goal he lofted a finish over Szczesny. After the failed intricacy of Arsenal’s play the Blues route one play was ruthless.
Podolski and Tomas Rosicky came on for Sanchez and Wilshere respectively but their presence did little to revive hopes of a comeback. In injury time the frustration got to Welbeck who floored Cesc Fabregas with a challenge that might easily have earned him more than a yellow.
Full-time came as a welcome relief, as it so often does at the Bridge. It may not have been as traumatic as last season’s 6-0 hammering but the fact we looked equally toothless in the face of Mourinho’s stubborn defence is still a major cause for concern. The Blues are walking away with the title at the moment, remaining unbeaten and a full nine points ahead of us.
We now have 13 days to mope before the visit of Hull City. A shit Sunday all round.