The integrity of several Chelsea players has been questioned in recent days, but no one can doubt their resilience. The sense of injustice at the nature of their Champions League elimination to Barcelona last week burns deeply, and instead of ranting at a referee this time they took out their frustrations in devastating fashion.
Chelsea shrugged off the disappointment and the controversy to condemn Arsenal to their second humiliating home defeat in five days. Almost inevitably, it was Didier Drogba who was once again cast as the villain, accused of diving by Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. Guus Hiddink showed his intention not to buckle to public opinion by selecting Drogba for his starting XI. The Chelsea striker has become public enemy No 1 for his furious blast at referee Tom Henning Ovrebo after Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Barça. Drogba has divided opinion since that tie, into those who loathe him and those who only hate him.
The Ivorian did not score, which is unusual for him against Arsenal. But he led the line with his trademark aggression and energy as Chelsea inflicted on Arsenal their heaviest home league defeat since they lost 4-1 to Ipswich in 1977. After an opening spell which Arsenal totally dominated, Chelsea took the lead on 28 minutes, and Drogba had a key role to play.
He won a free-kick, drawing a foul from Cesc Fabregas who was booked by referee Phil Dowd for moaning too much that the Chelsea man had dived. Drogba arced the free-kick to the shaved head of Chelsea's Brazilian defender Alex, who rose above a static Mikaël Silvestre to force his header in via the underside of the bar. Wenger was furious at the decision. Asked if it was a dive, he replied: "It was. We live in a league where divers are rewarded. It's not right but it's like that." Whether he is wearing flip-flops or football boots, Drogba cannot take a step without treading in some kind of controversy.
Chelsea manager Hiddink paid tribute to his side's character after a victory in which the club guaranteed at least finishing third in the Premier League. "I felt the injustice, not being in the European Cup final," he said.
"That felt like a huge injustice for everyone in the team. Then we have this reaction against Arsenal. It's been a long time since Chelsea have made such a big victory against Arsenal. That's why I'm very proud of the boys in the way they reacted, tactically and mentally." It was the first league goal conceded at home by Arsenal since 21 December last year, and triggered something of an avalanche. Nicolas Anelka, who should have scored in first-half stoppage time, doubled Chelsea's advantage six minutes before the break.
The former Arsenal striker picked the ball up in midfield and, as Samir Nasri and Silvestre left it to each other to make a challenge, he drove at the Arsenal goal. His powerful shot from 25 yards had pace and swerve, but Lukasz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal, one of three changes from the team that lost 3-1 to Manchester United in midweek, should have done better.
Chelsea again exposed the cracks in the Arsenal defence with their third shortly after the interval. The excellent Florent Malouda released an overlapping Ashley Cole, whose dangerous cross was met by Arsenal defender Kolo Touré who steered the ball into the bottom corner of the goal.
Wenger responded by bringing on Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Adebayor, the latter's arrival greeted by boos from disgruntled Arsenal fans. The response was swift. Bacary Sagna's hanging cross invited a finish, which Bendtner applied with his head from close range. The combination worked again moments later, but this time Petr Cech was on hand to save.
Arsenal only had themselves to blame as they should really have been a couple of goals up inside 20 minutes. Theo Walcott gave Cole almost as torrid a time as the home support.
The Arsenal supporters jeered Drogba's every touch, but the loudest abuse was reserved for Cole who had been excellent in midweek in defusing the danger posed by Barcelona's Lionel Messi but found Walcott a far trickier proposition. Walcott had four good chances to score in the first quarter of the game, but he missed the target three times and when he did find his range he could not beat the imposing form of Cech.
With 15 minutes left Arsenal were denied a penalty when Jose Bosingwa challenged Adebayor but referee Dowd waved play on. The decision effectively ended Arsenal's brief rally as within moments Malouda fired in a fourth to mark the Blues' biggest league win at Arsenal since 1960.
Wenger remained typically positive despite the scoreline. He said: "I do not believe this was a bad performance. It was not a 4-1 game. We are very disappointed. This is now an opportunity for us to show our mental strength."
Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Touré, Silvestre, Gibbs; Song (Denilson, 67); Walcott (Adebayor, 67), Fabregas, Nasri, Diaby (Bendtner, 60); Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Ramsey, Djourou, Eboué.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Ivanovic, 77), Alex, Terry, A Cole; Essien, Mikel; Anelka, Lampard, Malouda (Ballack, 88); Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Di Santo, Kalou, Belletti, Mancienne.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffs).
Booked: Arsenal Fabregas.
Man of the match: Malouda.