Ten-man Arsenal suffered a massive blow to their Premier League title credentials as Diego Costa’s first-half goal condemned them to defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
After a frenetic opening period where Oscar hit the base of the post, and the Gunners’ Per Mertesacker was given his marching orders for bringing Costa down when the Spaniard was through on goal, the former Atletico Madrid turned home a Branislav Ivanovic cross to earn Guus Hiddink’s side a vital victory.
Despite near relentless Arsenal pressure after the break, Thibaut Courtois was virtually unemployed as a brilliant rearguard performance ensured the Blues piled more misery on Arsene Wenger, whose side have now failed to beat Chelsea in nine attempts – as well as failing to score against them in the last six.
It might have been an even more impressive scoreline for the Blues had referee Mark Clattenburg neglected to award Cesc Fabregas with what should have been a certain penalty.
Chelsea now leapfrog West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League table in thirteenth – and, with the Blues now just four points off the top ten, and a further four off fifth-placed Manchester United, there is every possibility that a strong end to the campaign can earn the London club a berth in continental competition in 2016/17.
This stunning win also extends the Blues’ unbeaten run since Hiddink’s appointment to eight games, and with an FA Cup appointment with Milton Keynes Dons next on the agenda ahead of crunch clashes with Watford, Manchester United, and Newcastle, there is a real possibility of turning this mini-run into a full-blown vein of good form.
Taking a respectable thirteen points from their last seven league matches, the Blues have made steady progress since Hiddink’s return, but this momentous victory is surely the highlight of the Dutchman’s short second reign thus far.
Things looked positive right from the off as Oscar cracked a shot goalwards which, via a combination of former Chelsea keeper Petr Cech and the woodwork, was turned behind for a corner.
Moments later, Willian was almost the beneficiary of a fortuitous bounce but found Cech well-placed to deal with his snapshot – but the moment that the game hinged on soon followed.
Latching on to a pass from deep, Costa got goalside of Mertesacker, who had no choice but to bring the Spaniard down. He was rightly adjudged to be the last defender, and was subsequently sent for an early bath as he was shown the red card.
It took less than five minutes for Chelsea to press the issue further, as Costa was first to react to a devilish cross from Branislav Ivanovic. The Spaniard swept home the cross for his eighth Premier League goal of the season and tenth overall, with Cech left helplessly exposed.
If one criticism can be levelled at Chelsea, it was that they were reluctant to push for a second goal, though more opportunities did fall their way before half-time.
The most guilt-edged of which was an Ivanovic header, which was cleared off the line following a well-worked corner routine, but with Arsenal – and Theo Walcott in particular – looking sharp on the counter-attack, a degree of caution was rightfully maintained by the Chelsea midfield unit.
Costa then found Cech in good form as the former Blues stopper prevented our top scorer from adding to our lead with an angled drive, whilst at the other half, Mathieu Flamini missed a glaring opportunity in stoppage time to equalise as he hooked over.
It was ten minutes into the second half when Fabregas was bundled over carelessly in the penalty area by Laurent Koscielny. Instead of giving a spot kick, Clattenburg deemed there was minimal contact – yet replays indicate it was a stone-wall penalty. Not the first time a key decision has gone against Chelsea this term, and to add insult to injury, Nemanja Matic was booked for a similar tussle just minutes later.
Still seething from that injustice, Fabregas tested Cech with a terrific drive from distance, and the sense of frustration threatened to boil over when the referee elected to play on despite an obvious foul on Courtois by Aaron Ramsey.
Despite one late goalmouth scramble, Arsenal failed to come even close to forcing an equaliser, with Chelsea looking far more likely to score – yet Willian’s wayward effort was the closest they came to adding to their lead.
The final whistle sounded to a chorus of Arsenal boos, with Gunners fans perhaps thankful they can blame their pathetic performance on the Mertesacker-Costa incident. The Chelsea fans, meanwhile, were delirious. What a performance!