Resilient Chelsea lift top four hopes and dent Arsenal’s

 
Julian Harris
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CHELSEA 2 vs ARSENAL 1

CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez has warned club captain John Terry that he cannot expect to walk straight back into the side, after a resilient defensive performance against Arsenal tightened the Blues’ grip on a top four place.

An early strike from Juan Mata and a Frank Lampard penalty gave the home side a two-goal lead at the break, but Theo Walcott scored on the hour and Chelsea had to dig deep to take all three points from their London rivals.

Terry was named on the bench for the third straight game, as he recuperates from a knee injury sustained in November.

“Every player here has to compete for his position and that is a good thing for the team and for me as the manager,” Benitez said.

“He [Terry] has been out for six weeks. It is still too early because of [his] match fitness. You have to play – but I cannot play him in these kind of games because obviously you play at home, you play high and it’s more difficult for him if he doesn’t have his match fitness.”

The result put Chelsea eleven points clear of Arsenal, with the north Londoners seven points off the coveted Champions League qualification places, and boss Arsene Wenger was left to rue a second straight Premier League defeat and another poor first half display. “We have lost two big games in the last week and that’s very damaging for us. We cannot afford to drop points any more if we want to be in the top four. It’s a concern,” he said. “There’s a psychological ingredient in there for sure. I felt that in the last two games we didn’t really go for it from the start.”

Wenger’s side were under the cosh from the start, and may have conceded a penalty when Abou Diaby appeared to have his arms around Oscar on the edge of the penalty area. Yet nothing was given, and the first clear chance of the game fell to Olivier Giroud inside five minutes, as the striker dragged a left-footed shot wide with only Cech to beat.

Chelsea went straight up the other end and scored, however. Eden Hazard lifted the ball over the Arsenal back line, for Mata to collect and drill high past Wojciech Szczesny.

And with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, the lead was doubled. Ramires found himself free in the same space that Mata had occupied for the first goal. He tried to cut past Szczesny and went over the Polish international’s outstretched leg.

Szczesny was booked, and then sent the wrong way by Lampard’s resulting side-footed penalty.

After the break the visitors looked a different side, and on 58 minutes a sumptuous slide rule through-ball from Santi Cazorla put Walcott clear. Arsenal’s top scorer curled the shot past Cech to notch his 15th goal of the season.

Giroud headed an injury-time chance narrowly over the bar, yet Arsenal could not find an equaliser.