Chelsea Close Door On Gunners (Sky Sports)
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 2
Arsene Wenger's men knew that anything but a win would not suffice in their futile bid to catch Jose Mourinho's accomplished outfit, but ended the day with little festive cheer as they suffered a third league defeat in succession for the first time since 1995.
The Blues have traditionally struggled against their North London opponents, particularly at Highbury, although the existing Premiership balance of power was not challenged as wingers Arjen Robben and Joe Cole struck in either half to cap a comfortable victory.
Arsenal were unlucky not to take the lead as Thierry Henry was denied by the post before Robin van Persie saw an effort chalked off by a controversial offside flag, but in truth The Gunners rarely threatened against Mourinho's irrepressible side.
Wenger employed Alexander Hleb in a central role to counter Chelsea's formidable midfield, but it appeared to have little effect in the opening stages as The Blues took charge of the game.
It was a loose pass from the Belarus star that gifted the visitors the first chance, as Didier Drogba headed down Frank Lampard's chipped ball, and Cole horribly miscued his shot with a clear sight on goal.
Lampard, as ever, was involved in everything, and his free-kick was tipped over the bar by Jens Lehmann before Michael Essien headed his cross off-target.
Mourinho's men maintained their early pressure, and could have had a penalty when Lehmann tugged down Drogba as he rounded the German keeper, but a set-piece from Robben was too weak and Lauren denied Essien with a fantastic block as The Blues failed to capitalise.
After a difficult opening 20 minutes The Gunners begun to find their rhythm, and were desperately unlucky not to go ahead twice in the space of 60 seconds. The first chance fell to Henry, as he picked up Hleb's pass, skipped past the challenge of Paulo Ferreira and saw his beautifully struck effort rebound off the post.
Strike partner van Persie was then dubiously given offside when Arsenal hit Chelsea on the break, as the in-form Dutchman finished coolly past Petr Cech before having his celebrations cut short by the referee's assistant - who raised his flag despite only Henry appearing to be in an offside position.
In line with tradition, tempers then began to fray as referee Rob Styles brandished the yellow card three times in five minutes - although Essien could have seen red as his loose elbow caught Lauren nastily in the face, sparking a shoving match between the two teams.
Just when Arsenal looked to be matching their London rivals however, Robben shrugged off his recent injury problems to put Chelsea in front after 39 minutes when he beat the offside trap to collect Drogba's pass and guide his shot in off the post past Lehmann.
Robben's strike laid down the gauntlet to The Gunners, both in terms of the game at hand and their distant hopes of catching their opponents in the league, but Wenger's side were unable to produce the final ball to trouble Cech in what remained of the first period.
Just one minute after the restart their chances were nearly dealt a severe blow as Philippe Senderos escaped a red card for a crude tackle from behind on Robben, as referee Styles ruled that Lauren was a covering defender and brandished only a booking.
Henry quickly followed him into the book for a petulant and unnecessary trip on Carvalho, and the fractious nature of the second half continued as Essien tried the referee's patience with a similar trip on van Persie that nearly handed him his second yellow of the game - and another suspension after his tackle on Dietmar Hamann.
Amidst the bad tempered affair, with Makelele also shown a yellow card, Robben had remembered there was a game of football to play, and his trickery opened up a chance for Gallas who found the side netting.
Lauren went closer from a similar angle at the other end as Cech parried wide for a corner, but, bizarrely, Arsenal had Robben to thank soon after as he mystifyingly opted to try and pass despite finding himself clear on goal from a Carvalho long ball.
The Dutch winger's judgement appeared to be faulty as, released again to trouble Arsenal, he decided to hold onto the ball rather than find Drogba and, after being forced across goal, saw his shot gathered by Lehmann.
Arsenal were struggling to make inroads, although Henry's snapshot volley in the box saw Cech diving to collect, and Wenger called on the experienced substitutes of Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp in a bid to rescue his side's season.
However, The Blues then delivered the killer blow to Wenger's title aspirations as Joe Cole ensured they would finish the day a full 20 points shy of top spot.
Lauren could not blame playing in an unfamiliar role for his catastrophic error as he allowed Cole to rob him on the left. The midfielder then negotiated England colleague Sol Campbell before dispatching a well-measured shot that once again beat Lehmann and found its way in off the post.
Henry directed a free-kick straight at Cech but Chelsea were clearly in the ascendancy, and Cole saw another effort tipped onto the post by Lehmann before the German keeper also denied John Terry from the resultant corner.
Bergkamp had Cech scrambling with a curling effort, and Terry did well to deny Lauren, Toure and Henry with a crucial blocks, before a late flurry from The Gunners also saw Cech deny Pires from close range and Henry fire over.
However, the game was up for Wenger's men as they saw their league campaign dissipate before Christmas and fell to a third defeat of the season at the hands of their superior London rivals.
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|5||Shots on Target||6|
|5||Shots off Target||4|
Lehmann, Campbell, Lauren, Senderos, Toure,
Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb (pires 70), Ljungberg (Bergkamp 70), Henry, van Persie (Owusu-Abeyie
Subs Not Used Almunia, Eboue
Booked Van Persie, Senderos, Henry
Cech, Gallas, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, J. Cole,
Essien, Lampard, Makelele, Drogba (Huth 88), Robben (Geremi 77)
Subs Not Used Cudicini, Crespo, Gudjohnsen
Booked Robben, Essien, Makelele, Lampard
Goals Robben 39, J. Cole 73