Didier Drogba continued his remarkable scoring record against Arsenal to set Chelsea up for a 2-0 victory today that took the English champions four points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Drogba converted with a neat backheel in the 39th minute to claim his 13th goal in 11 starts against the Gunners before Alex completed the victory five minutes from time with a powerful free-kick. In between the visitors enjoyed long periods of possession at Stamford Bridge but were unable to find a way though a well organised Chelsea defence.
The result left Chelsea with a seven point advantage over their London rivals as they also took advantage of Manchester United's failure to beat Sunderland 24 hours previously. And the victory was watched by manager Carlo Ancelotti, in the dug-out after returning from Italy where he had attended his father's funeral.
Ancelotti's decision to restore Ramires in place of Yuri Zhirkov together with Drogba's return from his midweek suspension meant Chelsea started with the line-up that lost at Manchester City, now second in the table, in their last league outing. And they were fortunate to escape unscathed from a dramatic opening 60 seconds when Arsenal set the tone for a confident first half display by creating two clear openings.
First, Marouane Chamakh headed Bacary Sagna's cross wide and then, more wastefully, when Laurent Koscielny headed over from just six yards. With the home side equally committed to getting forward, the game quickly developed into a pattern of attack and counter-attack with Chelsea relying on a more direct approach while Arsenal controlled long periods of the game.
Florent Malouda came close in the seventh minute when he wrong-footed Koscielny to reach John Terry's long ball before sending a lob narrowly over Lukasz Fabianski's cross bar. Then eight minutes later Michael Essien kick-started a sweeping break that involved Drogba and Nicolas Anelka before Sagna intervened to hack the ball to safety when Drogba was ready to pounce.
Arsenal, though, were more than a match for Chelsea in the central areas where Alex Song, Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere worked tirelessly to match the efforts of the home midfield. Backed by a solid platform, the visitors attacks gathered momentum and Andrey Arshavin forced a full length save out of Petr Cech shortly before Samir Nasri came close with a curling 32nd minute shot.
Then just when Arsenal could claim to be in control, Chelsea struck with an incisive move that ended with Drogba's goal six minutes before half-time. Ramires initially created the opening by winning possession deep in the Arsenal half and then releasing Ashley Cole inside the Arsenal area with a perfectly weighted ball. England left back Cole then fired a low cross to the near post and Drogba's back-heel did the rest.
Arsenal recovered well from the set-back and stepped up their efforts after the interval, spending long periods in the home half yet they were unable to break down a formidable Chelsea defence. Anelka should have doubled the lead on the hour when he forced Koscielny into a mistake and rounded Fabianski only to fire into the side netting.
Gaps appeared more frequently in the visiting defence as Arsenal pressed forward in search of the equaliser and when Koscielny brought down Anelka five minutes from time, Alex made sure of victory with a powerful 30-yard free-kick.