RAFAEL Benitez finally enjoyed some home comfort as Chelsea avoided throwing away another two-goal lead – as they did against Southampton last Wednesdsay – by clinging on to beat Arsenal.
Chelsea - Mata (6), Lampard (16 pen)
Arsenal - Walcott (58)
It was very nearly Groundhog Day at snowy Stamford Bridge, with the Gunners making amends for an appalling first-half performance through Theo Walcott’s first goal since signing his new contract. It was, however, not enough to overturn the two-goal head start they gifted Chelsea, with Juan Mata’s strike and Frank Lampard’s penalty – his 195th goal for the club – ultimately proving the difference.
A Barclays Premier League double over Arsenal also saw the third-placed Blues move 11 points clear of their opponents and cast doubt over the top-four credentials of the Gunners.
Amid the almost relentless negativity that seems to dog Chelsea – currently the fan revolt against Benitez, reported managerial target Pep Guardiola’s decision to accept an offer from Bayern Munich, and the Lampard contract saga – there was finally some positive news to report over Ashley Cole’s future ahead of yesterday’s game.
Talk of a new contract being agreed succeeded in appeasing disgruntled supporters who had witnessed just two wins in their previous seven Stamford Bridge outings.
Benitez was spared his usual frosty reception, despite the wintry weather, with abuse reserved instead for an Arsenal team for whom suffering has become second nature.
Francis Coquelin was arguably fouled by Ramires and the ball broke to Cesar Azpilicueta, whose crossfield pass found Mata, the Spaniard controlling the ball before lashing left-footed into the roof of the net just six minutes in.
Arsenal’s back line were all over the place, especially out wide, and Chelsea doubled their lead in the 16th minute with embarrassing ease.
Mata found Ramires in acres of space six yards out and the Brazilian tempted Wojciech Szczesny into conceding a penalty – but crucially avoiding a red card – which Lampard slotted home. Cue the predictable chants of “Sign him up”, as Stamford Bridge rocked to the kind of noise rarely witnessed under Benitez.
Theo Walcott, fresh from signing a contract extension of his own a few days ago, netted on 58 minutes after a fine move with Santi Cazorla, but Chelsea held firm for the three points.