Chelsea survived a spirited but futile Arsenal fightback in the second half at Stamford Bridge as they clung on for a 2-1 win in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger's side were unspeakably dismal in the first half as Chelsea opened up a two-goal lead inside 16 minutes thanks to a lovely control and finish from Juan Mata and a penalty from Frank Lampard that put the Chelsea captain within seven of the club's all-time scoring record.
However, the complexion of the match changed completely at half-time, a rejuvenated Arsenal pulling one back on 58 minutes when the freshly-contracted Theo Walcott finished excellently from a wonderful pass from Santi Cazorla.
But Chelsea did enough to end their recent run of poor home form to win the London derby, the victory ensuring they remain six points behind Manchester City in third following the weekend's action. Arsenal, meanwhile, are level with Liverpool and West Brom on 34 points, trailing both Everton and Tottenham in the battle for fourth place.
Arsenal were unchanged from a 1-0 win over Swansea in the FA Cup yet a Chelsea side without a win in three home games responded to a 2-2 draw with Southampton in midweek by taking the curious decision to replace the in-form Demba Ba with the woefully-out-of-it Fernando Torres.
Still, it mattered little in a dominant first half that saw Chelsea gleefully enforce their authority and revel in their superior quality against an Arsenal side that looked lost amid the driving snow, with Abou Diaby off the pace in his third game in a week and Bacary Sagna repeatedly exposed.
In truth, barely a single Arsenal player looked anything other than weary and uncertain. Even when gifted a huge chance when Walcott played in Olivier Giroud with a cute pass in the opening minutes, the striker looked panicked and took his shot on first time, rifling the ball wide of the far post.
Cazorla also tested Cech with a drive from 30 yards after nine minutes, but that was Arsenal's last attacking contribution of the half, and by that point they already found themselves a goal down thanks to Mata's fine opener.
Referee Martin Atkinson should have awarded a foul when Ramires caught Francis Coquelin on the top of the foot but Chelsea played on as Arsenal protested and the inattentive Sagna was culpable as Mata ran onto a long ball from Cesar Azpilicueta, controlled the ball with a gorgeous touch and then stroked it past Wojciech Szczesny.
Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar were circling a vulnerable Arsenal defence like a school of sharks would a wounded seal, the Belgian darting through a sea of red to lash a shot at Szczesny that the keeper did well to save.
However, Szczesny was exposed on 16 minutes as Chelsea made it two. Ramires was given far too much space in the box and looked for contact when knocking the ball to the side of the advancing keeper. Contact duly came, and Ramires was tripped, a penalty awarded. Szczesny was fortunate not to be shown a red card even with two covering defenders but Lampard drove the penalty home for his 195th goal for Chelsea - leaving him just seven behind record scorer Bobby Tambling.
It was a different story after the break though as Arsenal finally joined in the contest. Per Mertesacker threatened when caressing a good shot at Cech after a free-kick was headed into his path, Walcott saw a low drive saved and Giroud was just unable to get the necessary contact with his head when meeting a lovely floated pass from Kieran Gibbs. Then, on 58 minutes, Arsenal pulled a goal back.
Torres wanted a foul when Thomas Vermaelen came in from behind but Atkinson played on, allowing Cazorla to prise open the Chelsea defence with an outrageously good through-ball that took four Chelsea players out of the game at a stroke. Walcott's finish was almost as good, the winger opening up his body to side-foot the ball high into the net.
Chelsea suddenly looked vulnerable and needed some respite. Torres, though, could not provide it despite losing Mertesacker on 70 minutes. As he raced into the box, the striker took a horribly heavy touch to allow Szczesny to race off his line and claim the ball. A distraught Torres slid to the ground and held his head in his hands.
Ba soon replaced him and was presented with a very similar chance just minutes later. He had more success when rounding Szczesny, who had rushed recklessly off his line, but with the goal opening up for him, the striker saw a fierce low effort cleared by a sensational block from Vermaelen.
Arsenal poured forward in hope in the closing minutes, with Gary Cahill producing a superb challenge to deny Walcott, but they could not make amends for a disastrous first half as they fell to their sixth defeat of the season.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Juan Mata (Chelsea) - A superb opening goal from the Spaniard and though Chelsea lost their way in the second half, he always looked in full control.
CHELSEA: Cech 6, Azpilicueta 6, Cahill 7, Ivanovic 6, Cole 6, Ramires 7, Lampard 6, Hazard 6, Oscar 6, Mata 8, Torres 5. Subs: Bertrand 6, Ba 6, Marin N/A.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 5, Sagna 5, Mertesacker 6, Vermaelen 7, Gibbs 7, Diaby 5, Coquelin 5, Walcott 7, Wilshere 6, Cazorla 7, Giroud 5. Subs: Ramsey 6, Arshavin 6.
- Sports & Recreation