A fluke goal from Didier Drogba handed Chelsea their first Premiership win over Arsenal since September 1995.
As Drogba attempted to control a pass, the ball struck his knee and went into the net, ensuring Arsene Wenger's 500th game as Arsenal boss ended in defeat.
Freddie Ljungberg cleared a header from Asier del Horno off the line in the second minute, while Jens Lehmann made a good save to deny Arjen Robben.
Thierry Henry forced a save from Petr Cech but Arsenal rarely threatened.
In truth, the season's first blue riband fixture was a largely uninspiring contest.
Both sides cancelled each other out for long periods and clear-cut chances were at a premium.
That will not worry Jose Mourinho, whose Chelsea side have not lost in the Premiership since last October - a run that now extends to 31 games.
The match started at a thunderous pace, with Ljungberg's goal-line clearance at one end and Henry curling a shot wide at the other both coming inside the opening three minutes.
But a streaker ran on to the pitch and the lengthy interruption that followed seemed to take the sting out of the contest.
The game became fragmented, characterised by a series of ambitious passes that all-too-often landed at opposition feet, as both teams attempted to find a way through the other's defence.
A poor pass created an opportunity for Hernan Crespo but he could not shrug off Kolo Toure, while Claude Makelele appeared to clip Ashley Cole inside the Chelsea penalty area but the Gunners' appeals went unanswered.
Ljungberg then reached a low Henry pass across goal but, under pressure from Del Horno, shot over the crossbar from a tight angle.
And shortly afterwards, Wenger's plan of deploying Henry, Robert Pires and Ljungberg as an attacking trio was brought to a premature end when the Swede was withdrawn.
Ljungberg had injured himself when colliding with an advertising hoarding and was replaced by Robin van Persie.
A delightful teasing cross behind the Arsenal defence from Frank Lampard shortly before the break created the best chance of the half but Robben made poor contact at the far post and Lehmann made a good block.
Henry controlled a raking pass from the impressive Alexander Hleb but drilled his shot over the crossbar as the game became increasingly stretched.
Ljungberg was stretchered off
Drogba, brought on at the break for the ineffectual Crespo, then wasted a decent chance for Chelsea, blazing high and wide.
Mourinho tried to seize the initiative, introducing Michael Essien for his debut and Shaun Wright-Phillips with half-an-hour left.
And with 73 minutes gone, Chelsea broke the deadlock in the most fortunate of circumstances.
As Drogba attempted to control a looping free-kick from Paulo Ferreira the ball hit his knee and eluded Lehmann.
Arsenal tried to respond straight away, with Henry forcing a save from Cech, but the best opportunity of the final minutes fell to Drogba, who should have lobbed Lehmann but tamely shot straight at him.
Chelsea: Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Terry, Gallas, Del Horno, Makelele, Robben (Wright-Phillips 58), Lampard, Duff, Gudjohnsen (Essien 58), Crespo (Drogba 45).
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Huth.
Booked: Gallas, Makelele.
Goals: Drogba 73.
Arsenal: Lehmann, Lauren, Senderos, Toure, Cole, Ljungberg (Van Persie 26), Fabregas (Flamini 85), Silva, Hleb, Pires, Henry.
Subs Not Used: Bergkamp, Cygan, Almunia.
Booked: Van Persie, Senderos, Cole.
Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).