Didier Drogba netted a brace as Chelsea went five points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 3-0 win over London rivals Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal enkoyed large spells of possession but failed to capitalise and iltimately had no answer to two Chelsea goals in four minutes just befor the break.
The Ivorian striker added a third, a superbly-taken free-kick, with four minutes remaining, as Chelsea affirmed their superiority over their London rivals – and restored their substantial lead over Manchester United at the top of the table.
Defeat for Arsenal meanwhile served as a major blow to their title hopes – Arsene Wenger’s side are now 11 points behind the Blues, although they do have a game in hand.
Arsenal enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, as Chelsea struggled to find a foothold in the pouring rain at the Emirates.
That said, the Gunners were unable to find a way through the Chelsea back line and forge a real goalscoring opportunity. Samir Nasri’s effort from 25 yards was the closest they came; Petr Cech got his body behind the ball and comfortably made the save.
At the other end, Nicolas Anelka could have won a penalty as Chelsea broke quickly on 18 minutes, Bacary Sangna seemingly wrapping an arm around his France team-mate as he shaped to shoot. The offence appeared blatant, but with no appeal from Anelka, referee Andre Mariner was under no pressure to point to the spot.
Chelsea grew in stature as the half wore on, and Drogba opened the scoring in the 41st minute with a fantastic demonstration of the art of scoring – it was his first sniff of goal, and proof, if it were needed, of just how deadly a striker he is.
Ashley Cole, predictably booed by his former fans, was the architect, the England left-back shimmying his way into some space to deliver an inch-perfect cross for Drogba to angle a volley into the top corner.
Just three-and-a-half minutes later, Chelsea’s lead was doubled as Cole again delivered a teasing cross from the left. This time he could not find a Chelsea shirt, but it mattered not as the ball eluded William Gallas only for it to ricochet off Vermaelen and into the same part of the net that Drogba had found just moments earlier.
It was the worst possible time to concede a second and Arsenal emerged for the second half with a mountain to climb.
The situation forced Arsene Wenger’s hand and he made a change at the break, bringing on Theo Walcott in the hope the winger could provide the cutting edge his side has been lacking in the first half.
Initially, Walcott’s introduction gave Arsenal a lift and the hosts started the second half in positive mood.
Andrey Arshavin even had the ball in the back of the net in the 49th minute, only to have his rifled effort into the roof of the net chalked off for an earlier high foot from Eduardo – who did not enjoy his best day – on Petr Cech.
It was to prove a crucial decision – had referee Andre Mariner allowed the goal to stand, Arsenal would have got themselves right back into the game.
But, correctly, he did not and the longer the second half went on, the less likely Arsenal looked like grabbing one back.
Chelsea went close to a third just after the hour mark when Drogba’s shot deflected off Gallas and then Lampard’s chest, forcing Manuel Almunia into action, but there was nothing the Arsenal keeper could do on 86 minutes when Chelsea won a free-kick 25 yards out.
Drogba stepped up and fired a right-footed curler over the wall and into the corner of Almunia’s goal to seal victory and send out a clear message of intent in their pursuit of United’s crown.