LONDON, February 8 – John Terry ended a miserable week on a high as Chelsea striker Didier Drogba tormented Arsenal again to inspire his team to a 2-0 win that sent the Blues back to the top of the Premier League on Sunday.
Terry showed no signs of being affected as he returned to the spotlight just 48 hours after being stripped of the England captaincy in response to allegations that he had an affair with the ex-girlfriend of international colleague Wayne Bridge.
The Blues skipper received a warm welcome from Chelsea’s fans at Stamford Bridge and ignored the jibes of Arsenal’s travelling supporters to set up Drogba’s first half opener and give a commanding performance.
Drogba, so often a thorn in Arsenal’s side, capped a clinical counter-attack with a blistering finish to increase Chelsea’s lead before half-time.
That was enough to ensure Carlo Ancelotti’s team moved two points clear of Manchester United and left Arsenal, now nine points behind the leaders, looking like also-rans in the title race.
Last weekend’s chastening loss against Manchester United had left Arsene Wenger’s side with little margin for error and the Gunners boss knew it would take a significant improvement if Arsenal were to end their woeful run of just two wins in 15 matches against Chelsea.
When Ancelotti’s men thumped the Gunners 3-0 in November, it was Drogba who took centre-stage with a match-winning double. This time all the focus was on Terry but once again Drogba reduced Arsenal to rubble.
Terry’s name was cheered to the rafters before kick-off by Chelsea supporters who responded to Arsenal taunts of "you’re not captain anymore" with chants of "there’s only one England captain".
He didn’t look bothered by his unwanted role as pantomime villan and played a major part as Chelsea took the lead in the eighth minute.
When Florent Malouda curled over a corner, Terry rose above Abou Diaby to glance a header towards the far post, where Drogba was lurking to volley home his 11th goal in 12 appearances against Arsenal.
Wenger’s team regrouped and caused panic in the Chelsea defence twice in quick succession.
Samir Nasri measured his run onto Cesc Fabregas’s long ball in time to round Petr Cech, forcing the goalkeeper to scramble his shot away for a corner.
While that was only half a chance, Andrey Arshavin had a glorious opportunity to equalise when he volleyed Fabregas’s cross straight at Cech from close-range.
It proved a costly miss as Chelsea punished Arsenal’s weakness against the counter-attack in the 23rd minute.
In a near-replica of Wayne Rooney’s goal at the Emirates Stadium seven days ago, Frank Lampard sprinted clear when Arsenal’s intricate passing broke down on the edge of the penalty area and picked out Drogba on the right wing.
Drogba powered past Gael Clichy with a clever flick and the Ivorian had time to pick his spot and lash a ferocious strike past Manuel Almunia.
It was the perfect response to Wenger’s claim after the teams’ last meeting that Drogba doesn’t contribute much to Chelsea’s play.
Ashley Cole almost added a third goal before the break but the left-back’s first touch let him down and Almunia was able to block his shot.
While Arsenal enjoyed plenty of possession after half-time they lacked the cutting edge that a player like Drogba provides.
Drogba caused more problems for the visitors when he lofted over a deep cross. Malouda found Lampard and the England midfielder saw his flick pushed out by Almunia.
Fabregas’s low free-kick forced a fine save from Cech, but Wenger’s frustration boiled over when he argued with Chelsea assistant Ray Wilkins on the touchline in the closing stages.
There was still time for Drogba to strike the bar with a free-kick as Chelsea gave Terry a reason to be cheerful at last.