Arsenal delivered an emphatic warning that they remain serious title contenders as they outclassed Chelsea in a dramatic 3-1 victory at Emirates Stadium to return to the top of the Premier League.
The Gunners had gone four league games without a win and were heavily beaten last time out at reigning champions Manchester City, who replaced them at the summit with victory at Fulham on Sunday.
Arsenal responded by producing a magnificent first-half display, racing into a 3-0 lead inside 34 minutes courtesy of two crisp strikes by captain Martin Odegaard and a scrambled finish by Gabriel Jesus.
Chelsea, who fell to a sixth straight loss under interim manager Frank Lampard, were thankful to goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga that the scoreline was not even more embarrassing and even pulled one back through Noni Madueke.
Arsenal, however, were never in serious danger and are now two points clear of City having played two games more than their title rivals.
Arsenal answered all the questions about their character following a recent mini-slump as they tore into Chelsea from the kick-off, backed by fervent supporters who have not given up despite City’s relentless surge back to the top.
The Gunners have been unfairly tagged as “chokers” by some following a recent run in which they lost two-goal leads at Liverpool and West Ham United, drew at home to struggling Southampton and were simply overwhelmed 4-1 at City.
This was the Arsenal who have made an outstanding contribution to this season, made the title race a serious contest and provided a feast of attractive attacking football along the way.
Mikel Arteta’s side were assisted by a truly appalling first-half display by Chelsea, but Arsenal were nevertheless quicker, showed more intensity and ran their London rivals ragged with the quality of their play.
Arsenal looked full of self-belief but they will be a little disappointed that they did not add to their tally after the break and also allowed Chelsea to give themselves the faintest glimmer of hope with a goal.
There will also be concern over an injury to defender Gabriel, who struggled on after taking a knock when Madueke scored Chelsea’s consolation but eventually had to go off.
In all other respects, however, this was a highly satisfactory night for Arteta and his players.
Lampard’s return to Chelsea is turning into a nightmare in what was already a season of unrelenting misery under the chaotic co-ownership of Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali.
Chelsea’s performance, especially in the first 45 minutes, was a gutless fiasco and suggested there is something deep-rooted and rotten at the heart of the club.
The lack of effort, competitive edge and desire will have felt like a new low for Chelsea fans who have suffered so much this season.
Lampard’s decision to start former Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang backfired as he had only nine touches – four of which were kick-offs – before being replaced at the break.
If Lampard thought his short stint at Chelsea was a chance to prove he is better than he appeared when he was sacked by Everton and might pave the way for new opportunities, it has not worked out that way. He is now suffering serious reputational damage.