Mourinho's functional champs win the battle of Drogba's knee

Chelsea 1 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Football

Chelsea started the match as the champions and they finished it having quelled one of the country's last outposts of serious resistance. Only Manchester City now remain unbowed by Mourinho's Chelsea revolution and judging by Arsène Wenger's reaction to defeat on the touchline, in his 500th match in charge of Arsenal, this also proved one of the most painful. He stomped tormented around the perimeter of this game, despairing at the details of a performance that failed to conform to his masterplan.

This was not quite the early chapter of the Premiership that would give us the vital clues to its eventual plot. Chelsea were as indomitable in defence as their reputation dictates but once again the attacking edge to their fleet of wingers was ponderous. Arsenal, still adapting to life without Patrick Vieira, were adequate but they did not excel and for Wenger the fear must nag that defender Philippe Senderos is starting to wilt under the responsibility of his task.

For much of this game, Arsenal proved themselves crisper passers of the ball, more prepared to pick away at the complexities of Chelsea's defence than, as their opponents did, launch their best attacks through the air. But it was to Arsenal, and Wenger's discredit, that the aerial approach of Mourinho's that they have so derided proved their ultimate undoing. Unlike their victory at Wigan last week, Chelsea could not summon a moment of definitive brilliance, but they won the battle with Drogba's knee.

There was a hint of offside about the goal the Ivory Coast striker, introduced as a half-time substitute, scored on 73 minutes but it owed much more to the disintegrating concentration of Senderos. The young Swiss defender was too far from Drogba as Frank Lampard's free-kick drifted over.

It was the worst of first touches, it was the best of first touches. Thierry Henry would, no doubt, have dragged an equivalent ball into his stride before picking his spot but lesser mortals have to exist on more modest talents. Drogba appeared to have shaped to control the ball as he entered the area but instead it cannoned off his knee and wrong-footed Jens Lehmann who let it run past him at his near post.

Wenger was not the only anguished bystander. Mourinho's edginess was evident when he admonished his physio for over-eagerness in tending to an injured player as Chelsea defended a corner. The Chelsea manager did not even include Joe Cole or his latest rebel, Ricardo Carvalho, on the bench. The Portuguese defender cut a forlorn figure as he wandered around the pitch after the final whistle.

Without him, Mourinho's defence looked as intimidating as ever with Asier del Horno at left-back his outstanding performer. The Spanish international has a ruthless abandon in the tackle that has already endeared him to Stamford Bridge and he almost scored with a header from a corner in the second minute that Freddie Ljungberg was forced to shuffle off the line.

The Swedish international was on the end of Arsenal's best attack of the first half when Alexander Hleb switched a pass out to Henry on the left and Ljungberg crept in at the back post to shoot over the bar. As Arsenal settled in midfield and pushed back Chelsea's initial pressure, Ljungberg smashed into an advertising hoarding and eventually had to be replaced by Robin van Persie.

From the bench before the hour Mourinho was able to summon Shaun Wright-Phillips and debutant Michael Essien and it was the England winger who had the more obvious impact. He is one of the few wide players capable of reducing Ashley Cole to wild, ill-timed tackles and in the build-up to Drogba's goal the strain was beginning to show on Arsenal's left flank.

Drogba's goal was not a strike of great beauty, and in the context of a game that never really ignited, it is difficult to tell whether this display has saved his career or cast more doubt - he missed a great chance on 55 minutes. But Mourinho's creed is victory - by long ball, by glorious dipping long-range shots or by opportunist knees - and it is a creed they have embraced whole-heartedly at Chelsea.

Goal: Drogba (73) 1-0.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Ferreira, Gallas, Terry, Del Horno; Makelele; Duff, Lampard, Gudjohnsen (Essien, 58), Robben (Wright-Phillips, 58); Crespo (Drogba, h-t). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Huth.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Lehmann; Lauren, Toure, Senderos, Cole; Ljungberg (Van Persie, 25), Gilberto, Fabregas (Flamini, 85), Hleb; Pires; Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Bergkamp, Cygan.

Booked: Chelsea Makelele; Arsenal Van Persie, Cole.

Referee: G Poll (Herts).

Man of the match: Del Horno.

Attendance: 42,136.