Cesc Fabregas shrugs off whistles to guide Chelsea past 10-man Arsenal
Chelsea made a mockery of their lowly Premier League standing, beating high-flying Arsenal 1-0 in an enthralling derby encounter at the Emirates on Sunday.
A poacher's goal from Diego Costa midway through the first half was enough to seal victory for Guus Hiddink's temporary charges, who enjoyed a man advantage over their London rivals for the majority of the contest following Per Mertesacker's 18th-minute dismissal. It was a big call by referee Mark Clattenburg, who was well placed when the German floored Costa who clear through on goal.
Despite having conceded three times at home to Everton last time out, Hiddink kept faith with the same Chelsea backline and defensive midfield setup. His decision was vindicated as the Blues showed character and composure to stoutly defend the lead Costa had given them in the 23rd minute.
The clear return to form of Cesc Fabregas, who ran the show from midfield, is a huge plus for Chelsea as they bid to salvage their season. The sight of Costa, who like Fabregas appears to be back to his best, limping off injured will be a notable source of concern to Hiddink, though.
Retaining the title may be viewed as an impossible task, but with the FA Cup and Champions League still to play for, Chelsea will draw great confidence from what was an excellent and spirited team performance.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- Occasional suspect handling when under pressure, particularly in the latter stages of the game, compromised what was a solid-enough display.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 7 -- Had a few nervy moments at the back early on as Theo Walcott's pace and Mesut Ozil's invention threatened to expose a lack of positional awareness, but grew in stature and confidence as the game progressed. Looked very assured going forward. Delivered the measured cross that Costa fired home and might have scored shortly before the break when a header was cleared off the line.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Largely untroubled in defence. Linked up well with Fabregas when going forward and made some decent runs down the left flank.
DF John Terry, 7 -- Provided the vocal glue and authority that bound Chelsea together as a cohesive unit. Benefitted from Arsene Wenger's tactical decision to withdraw Olivier Giroud in favour of Gabriel following Mertesacker's sending-off.
DF Kurt Zouma, 8 -- Mobility, alertness and a commanding physical presence made Zouma the pick of Chelsea's defenders. Made several crucial blocks as Arsenal chased an equaliser and was cool and calm under pressure, particularly when Alexis Sanchez entered the fray.
MF John Obi Mikel, 7 -- Worked tirelessly and provided an even mix of craft and guile in Chelsea's midfield engine room. A little overzealous perhaps in the attention he afforded Sanchez and rightly booked for a challenge on the Chile international that wouldn't have looked out of place in a wrestling ring.
MF Nemanja Matic, 7 -- Making his 100th appearance for Chelsea, after a disappointing season to date, Matic will have taken confidence from a much-improved performance. Formed an effective defensive shield with Mikel and combined well with Fabregas when breaking up play and moving the ball forward.
MF Willian, 7 -- Combined well with Ivanovic on the right flank and played some wonderful give-and-go football with Costa. Was a constant threat from set pieces and tormented the Arsenal backline when in possession. Denied a first-half goal by the excellence of Petr Cech, although the Brazilian might have done better when dragging a shot late on well wide of the mark.
MF Oscar, 6 -- Being booked early on for a poor tackle on Joel Campbell did not water down Oscar's appetite for the physical side of the contest. Showed some deft touches on the ball, but always overshadowed by the creativity and incisiveness of Fabregas and Willian.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 9 -- Booed virtually every time he touched the ball by the home crowd who once revered him, Fabregas clearly drew inspiration from the hostility as he proceeded to boss midfield and pull Chelsea's creative strings. Denied a clear-cut penalty when body-checked by Laurent Koscielny.
FW Diego Costa, 8 -- A swaggering, confident performance that brought a goal ended in concern when Costa hobbled from the field of play midway through the second half. Led Chelsea's line superbly and had the pace and vision to be on the ball and through on goal, which resulted in Mertesacker's dismissal and was perfectly placed to fire home Ivanovic's cross to score.
FW Loic Remy, 5 -- Replaced Costa in the 67th minute. Lacked the presence and power of his departed teammate, and was easily dispossessed when played into the game.
MF Eden Hazard, NR -- Replaced Oscar in the 75th minute. The most encouraging aspect of Hazard's cameo involvement was his renewed competitive edge and willingness to get involved.
Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.