Game of two halves
Rob Parrish looks back at Chelsea's 2-1 success over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, where the bare facts of the score do not even begin to tell the full story of an enthralling London derby.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp
Last Updated: 21/01/13 11:22am
Rafa Benitez claimed only his second home Premier League victory since being appointed Chelsea manager back in November but it was almost another case of déjà vu for the under-fire Blues boss.
The former Liverpool manager is still to be accepted by many of the Stamford Bridge faithful and found his interim position come under further scrutiny after blowing a 2-0 lead at home to Southampton in midweek.
Benitez can point to an excellent opening 45 minutes and the three points the Blues ultimately collected in his defence as Arsenal, who were as impressive after the break as they were insipid prior to it, narrowly failed to restore parity in an action-packed encounter.
Fernando Torres was restored to the Chelsea starting XI with Demba Ba back on the bench, while the absence of David Luiz saw Branislav Ivanovic recalled to central defence as John Terry remained among the substitutes as he continues his comeback from injury.
Arsene Wenger stuck with the men on duty for Wednesday's FA Cup third-round replay success against Swansea, with Olivier Giroud again handed the central striking duties and Theo Walcott, who signed a new long-term contract in midweek, in a wider midfield role.
Chelsea's favoured approach is the 4-2-3-1 formation, which sees Ramires and Frank Lampard given the holding duties and allowing the creative talents of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata freedom to express themselves in support of Fernando Torres.
Wenger opted to go like-for-like at Stamford Bridge, with Francis Coquelin and Abou Diaby his midfield anchors behind Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Walcott and Giroud offering a greater physical presence as the lone forward.
Benitez's first change came in the 72nd minute, with Arsenal having pushed Chelsea onto the back foot and threatening to equalise, as he replaced Oscar with Ryan Bertrand in a bid to quell the threat of Walcott on the flank. Ba came on for Torres with nine minutes to go and again looked lively, while Marko Marin helped see the game out following his late introduction for Hazard.
Despite a miserable opening 45 minutes, Wenger did not make changes at the break, but clearly fired his players up with a team-talk which saw them much improved after the interval. Aaron Ramsey came on for the injured Francis Coquelin moments after Walcott scored and did well, while the introduction of forgotten man Andrey Arshavin was less successful as he contributed nothing.
Martin Atkinson missed, or chose to overlook, Ramires' challenge on Coquelin in the build-up to Chelsea's first goal. His decision to award the Blues a penalty as the same player went to ground over Wojciech Szczesny's outstretched leg was correct, as was the decision to issue only a yellow card to the Arsenal goalkeeper as there were two defenders covering on the line behind the keeper.
Chelsea appear to have made their mind up that Lampard's days at Stamford Bridge are numbered, with no contract talks with the England international planned and his current deal due to expire in the summer. The former West Ham midfielder may be coming to the latter stages of his career, but he remains a proven Premier League performer and should produce at least another season at the highest level. He will not be short of offers in the summer.
There was a rare moment of celebration for Arsenal fans in the week when Theo Walcott committed his long-term future to the Gunners after weeks of speculation, and he was on target after the interval as Arsenal battled to get back into the game. Having failed to beat the offside trap on several occasions in the first period, the England forward finally timed his run to perfection in the 58th minute to collect Cazorla's slide-rule pass and finish in fine style.
Question marks remain over the long-term future at Chelsea. Interim manager Benitez may feel a little more secure now that Pep Guardiola, so long touted as a target for Roman Abramovich, has agreed to take charge at Bayern Munich, but he remains unpopular among the home faithful. £50million striker Torres remains a shadow of his former self, with Ba's arrival seeming to increase the pressure on his shoulders, rather than ease it, as Benitez had hoped.
For Arsenal, their impressive second half fight-back cannot gloss over how truly inept they were in the opening 45 minutes. Chelsea swept through their midfield and defence almost at will to the dismay of Arsene Wenger. Giroud missed a glorious early opportunity to break the deadlock and headed weakly at Cech after the break from Gibbs' excellent cross, as reminders of the absence of Robin van Persie become ever more painful with every goal he scores for Manchester United.
|2||1st Half Goals||0|
|7||Shots on Target||6|
|5||Shots off Target||4|
|63.7||1st Half Poss.||36.3|
|35.4||2nd Half Poss.||64.6|