Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal: Antonio Conte's Team Extends Premier League Lead in Derby Revenge

Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard at Stamford Bridge, London, February 4. Hazard scored Chelsea's second goal. ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty

When Antonio Conte's heart rate returns to its normal rhythm on Saturday night, after another frantic 90 minutes on the Stamford Bridge touchline, the Chelsea manager will saviour this 3-1 humbling of Arsenal as the sweetest victory yet in his time in English football.

Conte's main objective was victory, the three points that would stretch Chelsea's lead to an intimidating 12-point gap at the top of the Premier League. Tick. But to do so against Arsenal was all the more warming for the Italian. It palmed Arsenal away from the title race and looked to put the Blues well out of sight. Tick, tick, tick.

Memories of September's embarrassment at the Emirates were recalled this week, the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal that looks increasingly like a defining moment in Chelsea's season. It was the day Conte decided he had seen enough, the day he opted to switch to his trusted 3-4-3 system at half-time and never looked back. Since then, Chelsea has been a bulldozer in the Premier League, taking 50 points from a possible 54 in the Premier League, losing once and conceding just five goals in 27 hours of football.

Remembering his emotions from that day in north London, Conte described it as a "great shock." Revenge was in the air in west London on Saturday, and it was Arsenal's turn to feel traumatised.

As Arsene Wenger served the third of his four-game touchline ban, sat in the East Stand at Stamford Bridge, Wenger's assistant Steve Bould took his place in the dugout. At times, the visitors looked like a class being taken by a supply teacher.

Arsenal's ill-discipline, positionally, was evident early on. Eleven minutes in, a Pedro free-kick reached Gary Cahill 10 yards out, unmarked, despite Shkodran Mustafi, Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain surrounding him. Fortunately for them, Cahill headed wide. But two minutes later the visitor was punished.

Pedro, once again, attacked down the right and delivered for the oncoming Diego Costa. Although up against the devastating pace of Bellerin, Costa showed a greater will, holding his fellow countryman off and powering his header onto the crossbar. When the ball came back down, Bellerin had a new opponent in Marcos Alonso, who beat him to the ball and put Chelsea ahead. Arsenal players demanded a foul, claiming Alonso had led with his elbow. Replays showed this to be correct—Bellerin would have to be substituted after being concussed—but they also showed the absence of Theo Walcott.

The Englishman, deployed presumably to worry Chelsea's defence with his incredible pace and inverted, darting runs, was found missing on multiple occasions. Chelsea, once again, was purring. Eden Hazard and Pedro, enjoying the space offered by Walcott, dazzled the Arsenal defence while Costa bullied it. Didier Drogba, the former Chelsea striker, watched on from the stands at Stamford Bridge as his successor Costa thumped and thudded in attack, in the same way he once did.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Diego Costa celebrate after their game Saturday against Arsenal. Hannah McKay/Reuters

In stark contrast to the reverse fixture, Chelsea was the team in devastating form here. Arsenal was given a glimmer of hope as it worked chances in the closing stages of the half. Mesut Ozil, on the periphery of this game, which is far too often the case, should have worked Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois harder when he found himself free on the edge of the area.

But Arsenal's greatest chance came when they pushed on Chelsea's achilles heal. A short corner was worked to the edge of the area and then delivered to the back post. It was the same way Tottenham ended Chelsea's winning run last month, when Dele Alli found space at the far post and headed past Courtois. This time, it was Gabriel, but his header was spectacularly saved by the Belgian goalkeeper, who has 14 clean sheets this season.

To understand the demanding nature of the Chelsea manager was to see his reaction to the hole in his defensive. Angelo Alessio, his Italian assistant, sat on the bench behind him felt the full force of Conte's fury, as he grabbed him by the scruff of his coat and launched him down the touchline, to remedy the error.

Conte looked to have also demanded more from his team as they returned for the second half, and he was rewarded just eight minutes in. Hazard picked the ball up in the center circle from a Costa header and skipped to top gear. He skipped past Laurent Koscielny, and then held off the attempts of Francis Coquelin to pull him down. He danced on and on, into the penalty area, where Koscielny had regrouped, only to be spun in circles again. Hazard found space and beat Petr Cech to cap off his mesmerising run. The Chelsea fans sat to the left of the home dugout found Conte diving in to celebrate.

Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck were called upon from the Arsenal bench as Wenger looked to drag his team back into the match. There was a hint of recovery from the visitor when Walcott went close from a counter-attack and Courtois had to be at full-stretch to save from a Welbeck header.

But victory was confirmed for the hosts through a Chelsea substitute, who was familiar to the away fans. Cesc Fabregas, a former Gunner, capitalised on a poor clearance by Cech. The Spaniard lifted the ball over the ex-Chelsea goalkeeper but refused to celebrate against his former club.

Giroud provided a consolation goal late on for Arsenal but it wouldn't appease the traveling fans. As the home crowd sung for Wenger to remain, some quarters of the away support showed banners asking for his departure.