Spain international playmaker Juan Mata scored one goal and set up another as Chelsea handed Arsenal their first loss of the season, winning 2-1 yesterday to consolidate top spot in the English Premier League.
Mata’s curling free-kick that glanced off Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny into the net proved to be the winner in the 53rd minute, earning the European champions a fifth victory in six league games.
Fernando Torres gave Chelsea the lead in the 20th minute from another free-kick by Mata, but Gervinho equalized just before halftime, dropping off John Terry to slam home a finish.
Terry was playing just two days after being banned for four games for racially abusing an opponent in a league game in October last year.
With the defender contemplating whether to appeal the suspension, he remained available for Chelsea and shrugged off the constant jeers of the home fans to deliver a largely composed display.
Terry was fooled by the good movement of Gervinho for Arsenal’s equalizer, though. The Ivory Coast striker peeled off the former England captain, before controlling a cross by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and slamming an unforgiving close-range finish high into the net, maintaining his improvement this season after being handed the center-forward berth by manager Arsene Wenger.
That was the first goal that Chelsea had conceded in four games, but Roberto di Matteo’s side held on to secure victory in their toughest test yet this season, proving they have the mettle in defense and the creativity up front to challenge the two Manchester clubs for the title.
It was Arsenal’s first setback of an otherwise encouraging start to the campaign and Wenger may well rue the decision to start Koscielny ahead of the in-form Per Mertesacker at centerback.
The France international was arguably at fault for both of Chelsea’s goals, losing Torres for the 20th-minute opener as the Spain striker hooked his right foot around Koscielny to volley home Mata’s inswinging free-kick.
Koscielny was fortunate not to give away a penalty three minutes later after being sloppily dispossessed by Torres and then possibly nicking the striker’s foot as he bore down on goal.
For Mata’s goal, Koscielny dived in to try to clear the set-piece, but the ball glanced off his leg into the net and left goalkeeper Vito Mannone stranded.
After starting sluggishly, Arsenal only really came to life following the introduction of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 17th minute after injury-prone Abou Diaby hobbled off.
However, Chelsea looked dangerous on the break through Torres, Mata and Eden Hazard, and they conceded few clear-cut chances.
Santi Cazorla, the diminutive playmaker who has been at the center of everything good about Arsenal in their first five games, was often crowded out by combative Chelsea midfielders John Obi Mikel and Ramires, while forward Lukas Podolski was quiet all match.
When the opportunities came for the hosts, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech did well first to claw away Podolski’s header in the 59th minute and then palm aside a deflected effort by Olivier Giroud, Podolski’s replacement.
In second-half stoppage-time, Giroud had a great chance to secure a draw for Arsenal, but having rounded Cech he fired into the sidenetting.
Terry ran over to the jubilant Chelsea fans after the final whistle, clapping their raucous support and slapping the badge on his jersey.