|Terry, right, was booed by Arsenal fans, but assisted Drogba’s first goal and threw his shirt to Chelsea supporters after the game [GALLO/GETTY]|
Didier Drogba was the driving force behind Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, securing their return to the top of the English Premier League.
Drogba scored twice in the first 23 minutes to establish a dominance that Arsenal were unable to overturn despite an improved second-half performance.
The Ivory Coast striker has scored 12 goals in 12 appearances against Arsenal since joining Chelsea in 2004, and was left unmarked at the far post and simply poked home captain John Terry’s header from a Florent Malouda corner in the eighth minute.
Drogba’s second came on the break after some sustained pressure from Arsenal, when England midfielder Frank Lampard burst out of his half in the 23rd minute, galloped 20 yards and laid the ball off to the Ivorian on the right of the Arsenal area.
The big striker stepped inside Gael Clichy to ram the ball past a stranded Manuel Almunia.
The result, following a 3-1 defeat at home by Manchester United last weekend, leaves Arsenal nine points adrift of Chelsea and seven behind the champions.
“Arsenal played well and we are happy with those two goals,” Drogba said.
Drogba now has 17 Premier League goals this season, putting him second in the scoring charts to United’s Wayne Rooney on 21.
Before the goal Chelsea keeper Petr Cech had had to make two saves in quick succession, diverting a ball at Samir Nasri’s feet behind for a corner and blocking a shot from Andrei Arshavin with his feet as Arsenal used the speed of Nasri, Theo Walcott and the tricky Russian to harass the Chelsea defence.
But Arsene Wenger’s team, so energetic in the build up, lacked the final flourish.
They failed to capitalise on a free kick just outside the area in the 69th minute after substitute Nicklas Bendtner was brought down by Ricardo Carvalho, Cech pulling off a fine double save.
Despite constant moves down the wings, they could not find a way through a defence stubbornly marshalled by Terry.
The Chelsea captain showed no sign of strain despite being stripped of the England captaincy on Friday following a week of lurid press headlines about alleged extra-marital affairs, including one with the former girlfriend of England team mate Wayne Bridge.
|Chelsea fans pledge their support for captain John Terry [EPA]|
Neither Terry, nor Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti, mentioned the scandal in their programme notes and the club have avoided any comment.
Ancelotti said on Friday he was not interested in Terry’s private life, only in his performance in training and on the pitch.
His behaviour there had been “top” Ancelotti said, and he would remain Chelsea skipper.
Almost every touch of the ball by Terry was greeted with boos from Arsenal fans and cheers from the Chelsea support. The 29-year-old flung his shirt into the Chelsea crowd after applauding them following the final whistle.
“It’s a difficult week for us, for all the club,” said Drogba.
“We try to stay together and focus on the games. We offered him as much support as we can.
“I think the best thing for him is to play.”
But the defender could be a doubt for Wednesday’s match at Everton after
receiving treatment to his left thigh midway through the second half, only returning to the game with his leg heavily strapped.
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger watched mostly stony-faced as his side’s title chances ebbed. His team have not won the league since 2004 and last captured silverware with the FA Cup in 2005.
Arsenal were the last side to beat Chelsea at home, in November 2008, under last-but-one Chelsea coach Luis Felipe Scolari.
Since then Chelsea, under temporary coach Guus Hiddink and then Ancelotti, have put together a 36-match undefeated home run, including 23 in the league.
Another former Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho, whose Inter side face Chelsea in the Champions League later this month, watched the game from high in the stands.
In Sunday’s other game, Kevin Phillips was the hero for Birmingham as the former England striker scored twice in the last 10 minutes to give Birmingham a 2-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
|Results & fixtures|
Saturday February 6
Bolton 0-0 Fulham
Sunday February 7
Birmingham 2-1 Wolves
The win preserved Birmingham’s five-month unbeaten streak at home.
Wolverhampton were leading through Kevin Doyle’s 42nd-minute shot on the rebound until Phillips, who came on as a substitute about 15 minutes from the end, scored in the 80th with a first-time shot.
Phillips then controlled a cross from captain Stephen Carr on his chest and volleyed into the bottom corner for an 85th-minute winner.
Birmingham’s first win in three matches lifted them to 37 points in eighth place, 11 spots ahead of a Wolves side that have won away from home only twice in the league this season.
“Kevin will never lose that ability he has got in the box,” Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said.
“He might lose his teeth, he might go bald, and his legs will go at some stage, but he will always have that magnificent technique and touch of a top player.”