Football - Blues survive Gunners fightback

Rafael Benitez finally enjoyed some home comfort as Chelsea avoided throwing away another two-goal lead by clinging on to beat Arsenal 2-1.

PA Sport

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.

But it was 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 serious doubt over the top-four credentials of Arsene Wenger's men.

Olivier Giroud drilled narrowly wide in the fifth minute after being threaded in by Walcott, a miss that proved decisive, with Chelsea sweeping ahead in controversial fashion less than a minute later.

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.

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 goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny into conceding a penalty - but crucially avoiding a red card - which Lampard slotted home.

Chelsea's control remained virtually absolute, although worrying parallels were developing with Wednesday's capitulation against Southampton as chances began to dry up. Fernando Torres - sporting a severe new haircut - squandered a chance to settle the nerves with a woeful effort seconds before the break.

Like Southampton four days earlier, Arsenal approached the restart with renewed vigour, Per Mertesacker and Walcott testing Petr Cech inside three minutes. Giroud's miscued header was another warning Chelsea failed to heed as Walcott halved the deficit in the 58th minute.

As like the opening goal, there was an element of controversy as Torres went down injured in the middle of the field. Otherwise, it was all about the brilliance of Santi Cazorla and Walcott, the former's inch-perfect through ball finding the latter's perfectly-timed run, with a clipped finish to match.

Demba Ba saw his shot blocked on the line by Thomas Vermaelen, who drilled a late free-kick just wide. The Gunners laid siege to their opponents goal, with Gary Cahill producing stoppage-time heroics and Giroud's looping header sailing just over the crossbar.

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