BUZZING: Antonio Conte
CHELSEA BOSS Antonio Conte must be buzzing inside, although outwardly he displayed the air of a calm pragmatist following Chelsea's comprehensive 3-1 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Feb 4).
Conte talks of the many games to go until the end of the Premier League season, but inwardly he must be doing cartwheels and jumping for joy, pretty much as he does on the touchline every time his side scores, as the chance of a fifth title beckons.
Arsenal came to west London, minus their manager on the touchline, as Arsene Wenger was banished to the stands for the third of his four game ban, and he would have been in agony at the way his side were swept aside by the Blues.
Marcos Alonso, Eden Hazard and Wenger's former captain Cesc Fabregas reminded him of the gulf in class between the two London rivals, and Olivier Giroud's coming off the bench to head home deep in injury time was perhaps not even a scratch on the veneer of Chelsea's polished finish.
Arsenal succumbed to their second Premier League defeat within five days after going down 3-1 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The defeat consigns the Gunners to a massive 12 point deficit on the Blues at the Premier League summit. Although the performance was better than in the shock midweek loss to Watford, Arsenal were rocked early on when Alonso headed in after 13 minutes. Alonso's flaying elbow caught Hector Bellerin straight in the face, the Spain defender was floored and took no further part in the match, and why a foul wasn't awarded, only referee Martin Atkinson will know.
Hazard then slalomed through Arsenal rearguard to give Chelsea a two goal cushion, with Petr Cech's poor clear out being lobbed back over him by substitute Cesc Fabregas for Chelsea's third goal. The Gunners tried to respond, but only grabbed a consolation though substitute Olivier Giroud's header, but by then the damage had already been done, and the same could also be said of their lingering title hopes.
When you don't capitalise on your early chances, the writing will inevitably be on the wall. With just two minutes on the clock, Mesut Ozil put in Alex Iwobi. He managed to create the chance to shoot, but saw his effort go agonisingly wide of Thibaut Courtois's upright. It was a huge chance which needed to be taken, and one of just a few from the Gunners in the first half.
Chelsea advanced and only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's clever track back blocked Pedro's advance. With their next move however, Chelsea took the lead. Pedro's cross from the right was met by Diego Costa to head onto the bar via the finger tips of Cech. The loose ball was met by the head of Alonso whose elbow caught Bellerin full the face as he headed in the Blues' opener after 13 minutes. Replays showed that a clear foul on Bellerin was missed by the officials.
Following lengthy on field treatment, Bellerin was taken off with Gabriel now reverting back to another right back role. More Blues' pressure and Costa struck wide from Pedro's through pass as Arsenal were hemmed in. When Hazard's advance was thwarted by Mustafi, the Arsenal defender received a yellow card for his efforts.
Back came Chelsea and the usually reliable Cech spilt a Pedro shot, giving away a corner on the half hour mark.
Arsenal's next response should have seen them level. After a succession of corners, Oxlade-Chamberlain picked out Gabriel whose header had both power and direction, but Courtois produced a quality reflex save to give away another corner. It was a big miss and just before half time too.
Chelsea came again and would have been in on Cech's goal, but for Mustafi's interception two minutes before the break. In the second minute of time added on, Ozil received the ball in space, but when he checked back inside onto his left foot, to shoot, he saw Courtois dive low to hold his effort. A goal down at the break, Arsenal's inability to take the few chances which came their way would see them go down two goals in arrears after 53 minutes.
Hazard broke and surged but saw Coquelin was with him. As the Arsenal defender spun and fell in his attempt to hold up Hazard, his drive and shot beat Cech to make it a 2-0 scoreline. It was a class goal and puts the Chelsea man on par with anything Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo can do.
The Gunners were stunned but still sought to reply. Mustafi's drive released Monreal, but he saw his cross blocked for a corner.
Just past the hour mark and Ozil combined with Sanchez who found Monreal. The Arsenal number 18 fizzed over a cross which begged to be tapped in, but no red and white shirts were advanced enough to to oblige.
Coquelin made way for Giroud and Walcottt for Welbeck as the Gunners front line was enforced and it almost produced immediate dividends.
After 77 minutes, Mustafi crossed for Welbeck's header which had to be turned away by Cortouis for a corner. Mustafi headed wide from Özil's resultant corner as time was running out for the visitors.
Five minutes before time and Cech's poor pass out to fell to Fabregas. With his goal unguarded, the former Arsenal man, lobbed Cech for a three goal lead.
Arsenal continued to play and grabbed a consolation when Giroud headed in from Monreal's cross, but it proved to be too little too late.
The same may also be said of Arsenal's title challenge as the silverware now increasingly looks all set to rest in west London come May.