John Terry celebrates after helping Didier Drogba put Chelsea ahead
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Stamford Bridge
John Terry's week of turmoil ended with a measure of consolation as he helped Chelsea return to the Premier League summit and apply a potentially fatal blow to Arsenal's title ambitions.
Terry, stripped of the England captaincy by coach Fabio Capello amid allegations of an affair with the ex-girlfriend of international team-mate Wayne Bridge, received vociferous backing from Chelsea's fans as he led his side into a crucial battle.
Blues coach Carlo Ancelotti has also been fervent in his public support of Terry, and was rewarded with a typically robust defensive display and a vital early contribution in attack that set his side on the path to victory.
Terry helped to create Didier Drogba's first goal after winning a header from Florent Malouda's corner - and the striker continued his stunning form against Arsenal by scoring his 12th goal in 10 starts against the Gunners with an emphatic strike before half-time.
Drogba almost completed his hat-trick late on when he hit the bar with a free-kick, but by that stage the game was won and Arsenal's misery was complete.
The focus was all on Terry, and once again he demonstrated his ability to overcome personal difficulties in a football environment by ensuring the Gunners never seriously threatened a comeback.
It was a display which will also have pleased England coach Capello, who will be looking for vital signs of how Terry responds to his decision to take away the captain's armband and hand it to Rio Ferdinand.
Terry ended the game with strapping on his left leg after an accidental clash with goalkeeper Petr Cech, but responded to applause from Chelsea's fans by throwing his shirt into the crowd and giving away his captain's armband.
For Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who knew defeat would more or less turn the title into a two-horse race between Chelsea and Manchester United, it was an afternoon of very public torture and his body language suggested he is feeling the strain of Arsenal's faltering challenge.
Wenger frustrated by Arsenal loss
Wenger was fiercely animated throughout, prepared to bandy words with anyone from fourth official Peter Walton, the Chelsea management team to even his own players. He cut a desperately disappointed figure for much of the game as the frustrations of defeat closed in.
He now knows Arsenal's only realistic hope of silverware rests with the Champions League - and nothing on display at Stamford Bridge suggested that is a viable option.
Andrey Arshavin missed a good chance to equalise and Chelsea keeper Cech saved well from Cesc Fabregas in the second half, but once again Arsenal looked too lightweight and flimsy when faced with one of the Premier League's powerhouses.
Chelsea, in contrast, will regard this win as a real statement of intent as they reclaimed top spot swiftly after Manchester United's 5-0 win against Portsmouth at Old Trafford.
Chelsea players back Terry - Drogba
Terry reacted to the show of faith from Chelsea's fans by setting up Drogba's first goal after only eight minutes. Arsenal were guilty of criminally poor marking from Malouda's corner, allowing Terry to head across the face of goal for Drogba, left unattended by Alex Song, to score at the far post.
The visitors' response offered a measure of optimism, and Arshavin should have levelled when he stole in on Cesc Fabregas' pass, only to strike his finish against the legs of Cech.
It was to prove an expensive miss as Chelsea exposed all parts of Arsenal's vulnerability to double their advantage after 23 minutes.
Arsene Wenger's side are never more vulnerable than when they are on the attack, as Everton and Manchester United have proved recently, and they were victims again when Lampard broke up a move deep in Chelsea territory. He raced forward and found Drogba, who swept past Gael Clichy with embarrassing ease before powering a shot beyond Manuel Almunia.
Ancelotti hails Chelsea's defence
Wenger made a frustrated retreat to his technical area as he saw Arsenal's lingering title hopes suffer another grievous blow.
Ashley Cole almost made it three after Lampard's pass cut open Arsenal's defence, but Almunia raced from his line to block the England defender.
The Gunners needed to make an early impact after the break, but it was Chelsea who almost extended their lead when Drogba's cross found Malouda, whose half-hit shot was turned towards goal by Lampard, but Almunia was alive to the danger.
Wenger's side finally managed to apply some pressure, but found Chelsea's defence in resilient mood as Cole made a superb saving tackle as Samir Nasri shaped to shoot and Cech saved well from Fabregas' low free-kick.
It was only a token threat from this fading Arsenal side - and all that remained was for Terry to take the acclaim from Chelsea's fans at the final whistle as they celebrated their return to the top of the table.
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