A Spanish double helped the European champions to victory at the Emirates and inflicted a first defeat of the season on the Gunners, despite Gervinho's strike
Spaniards Juan Mata and Fernando Torres were on the scoresheet as they, temporarily at least, moved four points clear of Manchester United and created daylight between themselves and their north London rivals.
The visitors made a purposeful start, restricting Arsenal to just 40 per cent possession in the opening 15 minutes, but it was Arsene Wenger’s side who carried the greater goal threat with Abou Diaby testing Petr Cech from distance.
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Diaby may well have been patrolling the area in which Juan Mata’s floated free-kick was directed but, having failed to reorganise accordingly, Arsenal were punished when the ball evaded the unmarked David Luiz but found Torres, who arched his foot around Laurent Koscielny, and located the top corner from seven yards.
The former Liverpool striker, whose form has seesawed dramatically during the opening few weeks of the season, was enjoying a productive afternoon and was unlucky to be denied a penalty moments later when he robbed Koscielny and fell under pressure from the Frenchman, just as he was preparing to pull the trigger.
Chelsea were very much in control, but this is a more resilient Arsenal side than the one they have encountered in the past and, after a spell of pressure, the Gunners drew level two minutes before the interval.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby’s replacement, drilled a low cross into the heart of the Chelsea penalty area that was collected and dispatched in the blink of an eye by Gervinho
Parity was short-lived, however, when Arsenal’s early second-half momentum was killed stone dead as a result of more horrendous defending from a fizzing, in-swinging Mata set-piece that took a slight nick off Koscielny before nestling in the far corner of Vito Mannone’s net.
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Chelsea were indebted to Cech, thereafter, who preserved their advantage when he reacted splendidly to tip aside Lukas Podolski’s looping header and again to tip away substitute Olivier Giroud’s deflected drive.
Santi Cazorla, the jewel in Arsenal’s crown, nearly created an unlikely equaliser when his jinking run and subsequent cross was prodded just past his own post by Luiz.
The diminutive Spaniard's influence was largely curtailed by a hardworking Chelsea midfield, but the former Malaga man created a golden chance in injury-time for Giroud.
The France international opened his account for his new club in the League Cup on Wednesday but his confidence will have taken another dent when he skewed his shot into the side-netting having shown decent poise to round Cech.
That flurry of activity aside, however, Chelsea protected their lead with a calmness that suggests their stay at the Premier League summit may well be a long one.