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Hazardous Chelsea gun down misfiring Arsenal


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Goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa saw Chelsea maintain their unbeaten run and open up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Arsenal came into the game in good form following their 4-1 mauling of Galatasaray in midweek, but following the humiliation they suffered at the hands of their cross-city rivals last March, the Gunners, surely, were fearing the worst heading into this clash of the league's only two remaining undefeated sides.

And those trepidations were realised when Hazard majestically wove his way behind myriad Arsenal tackles before he was unceremoniously upended in the box with 26 minutes played.

The Belgian rose to stroke home the resultant penalty, and that moment of brilliance looked set to have made all the difference before Costa stole in to convert from Cesc Fabregas' glorious raking through-ball to secure the points.

Much of the pre-match hype surrounded Fabregas and his Arsenal connections, with the Spanish midfield star making his first appearance against the Gunners since departing for Barcelona in 2011 - and much of the discussion related to how he would be received by the travelling Arsenal faithful.

Rather than display the sort of courtesy Chelsea fans extended towards Frank Lampard - despite the midfielder robbing them of what would have been a famous win at the Etihad Stadium last month - Arsenal's supporters exhibited nothing but petulance and classlessness as Fabregas' every touch was booed.

But the last laugh will be saved for Fabregas, whose assist for Costa settled this game, and for Chelsea manager José Mourinho, who extended his unbeaten run against Arsene Wenger to twelve matches.

Wenger reacted furiously to an early challenge on Alexis Sanchez by Gary Cahill that may well have been punishable by a red card in different circumstances, and in his bid to remonstrate with the officials the Frenchman raised hands towards Mourinho when the Portuguese quite rightly ordered the Arsenal boss to stay within the confines of his technical area.

That episode was revisited countless times throughout the match and there was, predictably, given the public animosity between the two, no handshake between the two at the end of the match - and that summarised the aggressiveness and hostility between the two teams throughout the game.

It was an old-fashioned blood-and-thunder London derby with Arsenal markedly improved from the side that was torn to pieces in last season's demolition job - but the Gunners still lack the ability to physically dominate Mourinho's well-oiled defensive machine.

True, the Gunners threatened for prolonged periods and were able to fashion a number of opportunities on goal, but their ability to maintain constant possession of the ball was undermined by Chelsea's impressive high pressure in the midfield, typified by no-one more so than the tirelessly combative Oscar.

Thibaut Courtois - who was taken to hospital as a precaution following a hefty blow to the head from Sanchez - and his replacement Petr Cech were criminally underemployed in the Chelsea goal, with one excellent one-on-save by Cech from Wilshere representing the sum of Arsenal's endeavours.

Courtois' injury was the one blot on the Chelsea copy book, but in Cech they have a man of such calibre that using the word "replacement" is insulting towards the Czech's pedigree.

Though there is much potential in the young Belgian, something just seems right about seeing the hulking, helmet-donning behemoth that is Cech between the sticks once again for Chelsea.

It was just two minutes after Cech's introduction that his opposite number, Wojciech Szczesny, was left picking the ball out of his net as Hazard confidently rolled the ball home from the penalty spot after the Belgian himself had been hauled down by Laurent Koscielny.

Receiving the ball some 40 yards from goal, Hazard turned the Arsenal backline inside-out before he was felled, only to haul himself back to his feet to give the Blues the initiative their early urgency warranted.

There were numerous heavy challenges flying in all over the Stamford Bridge pitch, but Arsenal could no doubt count themselves fortunate that referee Martin Atkinson deemed Kieran Gibbs to be in a covering position after Koscielny tripped Hazard - the Frenchman, like Cahill, might well have seen red for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Young Callum Chambers was equally the beneficiary of refereeing leniency as he somehow avoided a second yellow card for fouling Hazard on the edge of the box, whilst Danny Welbeck was hugely fortunate that Atkinson's view of his horrific two-footed lunge on Fabregas was obscured.

That challenge, born out of frustration, followed mere moments after Fabregas' glorious lobbed pass allowed Costa to steal in, chip Szczesny, and send the Chelsea faithful into raptures as he maintained his phenomenal early-season goalscoring return.

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