Chelsea tightened their grip on the Premier League title race and delivered a blow to Arsenal’s aspirations with a convincing victory at Stamford Bridge.
Manager Arsene Wenger, watching from the stands as he served the third of a four-match touchline ban, was hoping Arsenal could respond to Tuesday’s shock home defeat by Watford – but Chelsea exerted their authority to leave the Gunners 12 points behind the leaders.
Marcos Alonso gave Chelsea the lead after 13 minutes, heading home after Diego Costa’s header came back off the bar. Arsenal were unhappy with Alonso’s challenge on Hector Bellerin that saw the defender take a heavy blow to the head which forced his substitution, but referee Martin Atkinson saw nothing wrong.
Eden Hazard made the decisive contribution with a magnificent solo goal eight minutes after half-time, leaving a trail of Arsenal players in his wake in a run from the halfway line before beating Petr Cech.
The goalkeeper’s poor clearance gifted substitute Cesc Fabregas Chelsea’s third, five minutes from time, and Olivier Giroud’s late goal barely counted as consolation for Arsenal. The visitors had chances but saw Thibaut Courtois save well from Gabriel, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck.
Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League was 12 points at the conclusion of this victory – although Tottenham moved back to within nine points with a win against Middlesbrough – and to underscore the scale of their improvement, it is worth going back to the first meeting between these clubs at Arsenal in September.
Their 3-0 loss to the Gunners left Chelsea in eighth place and eight points behind then-leaders Manchester City after six games. This proved to be a watershed moment for the Blues and manager Antonio Conte.
In the intervening 18 games after Conte switched to his preferred three-man central defensive system, they have won 16 league games, lost at Spurs and drawn at Liverpool. It has been a powerhouse run that has effectively brought a 20-point swing in the title race.
Chelsea once more looked the model of efficiency, although they conceded more chances than Conte would have liked, with N’Golo Kante a tireless midfield influence.
The Italian wanted to make amends for that heavy loss at Emirates Stadium and he had the players and system to do it in style.
And when they have individuals who can produce game-defining moments like Hazard, it is almost impossible to see any way they will leave the door far enough ajar for any of their pursuers to squeeze through.
Conte’s celebration after Hazard’s goal showed how much the win meant to him.
All over for Arsenal?
Arsenal’s loss here at Stamford Bridge caps a dreadful week for the Gunners and manager Wenger – watching from the stands as their title hopes were surely snuffed out for another year.
First they were knocked off course by that defeat by Watford and here they were beaten by a Chelsea side that looked like everything Arsenal did not. Strong, streetwise, ruthless and confident.
Wenger’s side were limp in the opening phases, not even getting a touch in the Chelsea penalty area for 35 minutes and when chances did come along they were squandered.
Wenger can make all the usual positive noises but this was, ultimately, an emphatic beating and barring a dramatic and unforeseen turn of events, the wait for their first title since the year of “The Invincibles” in 2003-04 will go on.
A single banner saying “Enough Is Enough. Time To Go” was held aloft in the Arsenal end – but it was almost a token gesture of defiance, rather like Giroud’s late goal.
The two faces of Chelsea
This Chelsea side mixes silk and steel – and does it in the shape of N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard.
Kante has been a key contributor this season and was again here. He breaks up opposition attacks and starts Chelsea’s own. He makes it his business to make life impossible for opponents.
Hazard sprinkles the stardust on Chelsea, as he proved with that slalom, weaving run for the crucial second goal that effectively decided the contest.
Chelsea look a team for all season. And look like Premier League champions in waiting.
Man of the match – Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
What the managers said
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte: “It was an important game. I consider Arsenal one of the six teams that can fight for the title until the end of the season. To put them 12 points behind is very important for us.
“In four days we have had two games against two great teams. I think we are showing we deserve to stay on top of the table. I am very pleased for my players. In every session they show me great attitude and great will to fight and win this league.
“Was the first goal a foul? In England never. No.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “It was a foul. If you look at a number of games recently we can feel sorry.
“It was 100% a foul, it was even dangerous play. That doesn’t take anything away from the performance of Chelsea.
“We had a strong start but didn’t take the opportunities and after half-time the second goal was the killer for us.”
The key stats
Chelsea have won nine successive Premier League home games and the aggregate score in these matches is 27-4 in Chelsea’s favour.
Arsenal have lost four of their past nine Premier League games, the same number that they lost in their previous 35 matches in the competition.
Chelsea have won all nine Premier League games in which Hazard has scored this season.
Petr Cech has failed to keep a clean sheet in three of his four Premier League games against Chelsea for Arsenal and has conceded in both meetings at Stamford Bridge.
Diego Costa failed to score in consecutive Premier League appearances for the first time since 2 May 2016 (three in a row).
Cesc Fabregas scored his first ever Premier League goal against Arsenal.
Chelsea will be looking to extend their lead further when they travel to Burnley in the Premier League next Sunday (12:30 GMT), while Arsenal host Hull on Saturday (12:30 GMT).
Match ends, Chelsea 3, Arsenal 1.
Second Half ends, Chelsea 3, Arsenal 1.
Attempt saved. Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) header from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Goal! Chelsea 3, Arsenal 1. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Nacho Monreal with a cross.
Attempt missed. Diego Costa (Chelsea) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is too high.
Attempt saved. Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Cesc Fàbregas.
Substitution, Chelsea. Kurt Zouma replaces Victor Moses.
Goal! Chelsea 3, Arsenal 0. Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box to the high centre of the goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea).
Substitution, Chelsea. Willian replaces Pedro.
Substitution, Chelsea. Cesc Fàbregas replaces Eden Hazard.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Victor Moses.
Attempt saved. Victor Moses (Chelsea) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Eden Hazard.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Gabriel.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Laurent Koscielny.
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Victor Moses (Chelsea).
Attempt missed. Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) header from the left side of the six yard box misses to the left. Assisted by Mesut Özil with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Thibaut Courtois.
Attempt saved. Danny Welbeck (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Shkodran Mustafi with a cross.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by David Luiz.
Offside, Chelsea. N’Golo Kanté tries a through ball, but Diego Costa is caught offside.
Foul by Gabriel (Arsenal).
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Arsenal. Mesut Özil tries a through ball, but Olivier Giroud is caught offside.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by César Azpilicueta (Chelsea).
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Nemanja Matic (Chelsea).
Substitution, Arsenal. Danny Welbeck replaces Theo Walcott.
Offside, Chelsea. Eden Hazard tries a through ball, but David Luiz is caught offside.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Foul by Theo Walcott (Arsenal).
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt blocked. Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Pedro.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Gabriel.
Substitution, Arsenal. Olivier Giroud replaces Francis Coquelin.
Francis Coquelin (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.