Champions Hang On To Damage Chelsea Hopes  (Sky Sports)

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 2

Marcel Desailly
Desailly watches his own goal fly in
Arsenal 3-2 Chelsea
Desailly og 9
Van Bronckhorst 81
Henry 82 
  Stanic 85
Petit 86
Barclaycard Premiership, January 1

Stephen Turner reporting

Arsenal emerged from a frantic final ten minutes at Highbury with a narrow victory and an eight-point lead over Claudio Ranieri's Chelsea.

Marcel Desailly's own goal had separated the Premiership's top two since the ninth minute, and when substitute Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Thierry Henry scored within the space of 60 seconds, the upstarts seemed to have been put firmly in their place by the champions.

But the Gunners went to sleep after Henry's 18th of the season and allowed the Blues a lifeline in the shape of a soft Mario Stanic header, and when Emmanuel Petit bundled in a second at his old home, the most unlikely of comebacks was on.

Highbury then had to endure a tortuous four minutes of stoppage time as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink just failed to touch in Jesper Gronkjaer's shot before over-zealous whistle-blower Uriah Rennie finally signalled the end, leaving Manchester United - five points behind - as the last remaining side clinging to Arsenal's coat-tails.

Arsene Wenger's double-winners have come through Christmas and the New Year with seven points from nine despite failing to hit the heights of late summer, when a second successive title seemed a sure thing.

But two potential heirs to the throne - Liverpool and Chelsea - have been negotiated with minimal damage and there were signs against their west London neighbours that the old swagger will surface before too long in 2003.

In an enthralling first-half of real quality, Arsenal largely kept Chelsea at arm's length, though David Seaman produced a greeat stop to keep out Graeme Le Saux's left-foot thumper.

And the goal which split the sides at the break was beautifully engineered, if fortunately executed, as Desailly beat Dennis Bergkamp to get on the end of Ashley Cole's cross - only to see his attempted block fly over Carlo Cudicini.

Chelsea persisted with their patient passing despite the deficit, but although their possession was plentiful and their play often pretty, the home side had the top performers in all the key areas.

Patrick Vieira was magnificent before half-time, leaving Frank Lampard - in the middle of an excellent season personally - looking like a fresh-faced first-former swinging at the school bully.

One dribble from the Frenchman left several opponents on the seats of their pants, though the closest Arsenal came to a second was Sylvain Wiltord's drive.

Gilberto Silva missed from six yards for the second time in a week at the resumption as the second half settled into a pattern of Chelsea probing and Arsenal waiting to pounce on the break.

Gianfranco Zola's departure after a reckless Lauren lunge hardly helped Ranieri's side, and Cudicini beat away Henry's shot at the end of one lightning surge before van Bronckhorst got on the end of the striker's pass to hammer an emphatic second Gunners goal from 25 yards.

The Italian keeper then uncharacteristically blundered to let Henry's near post effort squirm past him before Stanic capitalised on some loose marking to nod in

Petit gobbled up a chance following Seaman's spill to make the scoreline a narrow one - but there remains a wider gap in the title credentials of London's top two teams and Ranieri has work to do yet if Chelsea are stand a chance of capturing a first crown since 1954 come the summer.

MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Ashley Cole (Arsenal) - the Gunners' most consistent performer all season was excellent again

Arsenal: Seaman, Cole, Campbell, Keown, Luzhny, Wiltord (Lauren 69), Silva, Vieira, Pires (van Bronckhorst 56), Bergkamp (Toure 79), Henry
Subs Not Used: Jeffers, Taylor.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Melchiot, Gallas, Desailly, Babayaro, Le Saux (Gudjohnsen 70), Petit, Lampard, De Lucas (Gronkjaer 56), Zola (Stanic 79), Hasselbaink.
Subs Not Used: de Goey, Terry.

Att: 38,096
Ref: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

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