The Blues maintained our recent upper hand over our rivals from north London as we completed a league double over the side who began the weekend as leaders.
Diego Costa’s sixth goal in six games, scored midway inside the first half, was the winner in Sunday afternoon’s derby, and it was he who had been fouled by last-defender-back Per Mertesacker earlier on to rightly earn Arsenal a red card.
However there was far more to this victory than just the performance of our centre-forward and such was the solidity of Guus Hiddink’s team that we restricted our opponents to just one shot on target. This result equals their longest run without a goal against any side in Premier League history.
Chelsea however did call Petr Cech into action on several occasions and only came under sustained pressure in the closing minutes.
The overall unbeaten run since mid-December grows to eight matches and our first three points collected in three league outings takes us up to 13th in the table.
Diego Costa had recovered sufficiently from the bruised shin bone he suffered in the draw against Everton to start the match whereas after three games out, Eden Hazard made his return on the bench. Nemanja Matic made his 100th Chelsea appearance alongside John Mikel Obi and in front of an unchanged defence.
Pedro was unavailable due to illness so Oscar returned to the starting line-up as part of the attacking midfield with Willian and Cesc Fabregas.
Arsenal’s long-term injury Alexis Sanchez made his comeback as a substitute but Mesut Ozil was fit to start having missed the Gunners’ goalless draw at Stoke.
The home side, who had not scored in their past five Premier League games against us had a very early chance to end that sequence but Joel Campbell missed his kick in front of goal badly. Oscar soon forced a near-post save from Cech at the other end.
Mathieu Flamini then caught Cesar Azpilicueta late on the side of the foot as the Blues full-back, making his 150th start, cleared a ball upfield.
Fabregas caused problems in the Arsenal area with the next attack as an end-to-end pattern to the opening minutes was established.
A good Gunners move through the middle of the Chelsea defence ended when Flamini slipped on shooting and the next attack from the home side ended with a booking for Oscar for catching Ozil out wide. The challenge was certainly no worse than Flamini’s on the same patch of turf a little earlier. There 10 minutes on the clock.
Four minutes later Chelsea had the best effort by either side yet. The move was started by Fabregas to accompanying boos from the home support before Azpilicueta crossed with pace and Willian volleyed at the target. It was going wide but Mertesacker played it back into the danger zone for a second bite of the cherry for Willian. The Brazilian’s low shot was saved by Cech.
Chelsea continued to go at the Gunners and with our next foray forward came a big moment as Diego Costa was played through in behind the defence by Willian and was scythed down by Mertesacker.
Referee Mark Clattenburg had no option but to send the German off and he did. There were just 18 minutes played and soon Olivier Giroud was hooked by Arsene Wenger to allow him to bring on another defender – who ironically was Gabriel given the red card shown to the Brazilian at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.
It did not take long for the Blues to make our extra-man advantage count. A cross from the left was deflected to the other flank by Koscielny under Diego Costa’s challenge and was returned low and hard by Ivanovic. Our no.19 made it to the ball first at the near post and tucked it home.
A difficult chance for a second goal was passed up when a cross cleared the Arsenal defence but Diego Costa and Azpilicueta got in each other’s way at the far post. Fabregas was then allowed to go on a 40-yard diagonal run to the edge of the area but had his shot blocked as the Blues continued to look good.
On 34 minutes, Theo Walcott, now operating as centre-forward, was slipped in by quick passing but the flag was going up as the ball was turned wide of the far post.
The England international would be caught offside again before the interval, unlike Diego Costa when he met a Willian pass and drew another save from Cech with a powerful drive. Ivanovic met the corner with a thump but Monreal on the post kept the header out.
In stoppage time, Flamini got on the end of a ball over the top inside our penalty area but lofted the ball well over the bar. Despite conceding that chance, it had been a good 45 minutes for the Blues. Guus Hiddink’s side had had five shots on target to Arsenal’s none.
We started the second half on the front foot too when Oscar’s shot was deflected for a corner.
With a corner further into the half, Kurt Zouma, scorer in the meeting at the Bridge back in September, was not far away from getting enough of a head on the ball to send it goalwards and soon after, Koscielny made contact with Fabregas as the Spaniard tricked his way into the box but no penalty was whistled. It was hard to see why it was not.
With Chelsea doing the attacking, Wenger made his second substitution, bringing on Sanchez for Campbell. There was just over half-an-hour remaining.
Matic was booked for blocking a run from the freshly introduced Chilean who then fluffed his lines with the free-kick.
On 63 minutes, Chelsea could count our blessings when Courtois could not reach a high ball which then bounced off the back of Azpilicueta before ricocheting around in front of goal. Zouma made the decisive clearance.
Loic Remy was already primed to come on when Diego Costa went down injured deep in the Blues’ half as we defend, but the striker was able to walk off and probably enjoyed the Arsenal fans’ verdict on him. There were now just over 20 minutes left to play.
Fabregas, continuing to impress on his old hunting ground, was the next to warm Cech’s hands with a shot from distance. Mikel was booked for an arm out that stopped Walcott going past.
The Blues had been using our extra player to stretch Arsenal by finding men out wide and that potential was enhanced in the final 15 minutes when Hazard came on for Oscar. The Belgian was central when he won the ball back inside our half to set off a counter-attack but Willian’s pass towards Remy had too much weight.
Courtois survived a moment of concern when he initially claimed but could not hold onto a ball which was loose for some moments before being hacked clear, and finally, inside the last 10 minutes, Arsenal worked up a head of steam.
However Monreal wasted one chance and Azpilicueta then defended brilliantly out wide when we looked stretched.
The Blues could have killed the game inside the five minutes of added time had we been more incisive when given the chance to counter-attack, with Willian dragging one shot wide, but the points were all ours when the whistle blew to spark big celebrations where the away fans were housed.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Oscar (Hazard 77); Diego Costa (Remy 69).
Unused subs Begovic, Cahill, Baba, L-Cheek, Traore.
Scorers Diego Costa 23
Booked Oscar 11, Matic 60, Mikel 72.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Cech; Bellerin. Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Ozil, Flamini, Ramsey; Campbell (Sanchez 57), Giroud (Gabriel 22), Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain 74) (c).
Unused subs Ospina, Gibbs, Chambers, Elneny.
Booked Mertesacker 18, Koscielny 45
Referee Mark Clattenburg