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Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta (right), and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud vie for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London
Chelsea rip apart Arsenal in Wenger’s 1,000th game Blundering ref sends off wrong player as Blues hit Gunners for 6

LONDON, March 22, (Agencies): Chelsea ripped apart Premier League title rivals Arsenal in a 6-0 mauling at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to ensure Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game turned into a nightmare for him and blundering referee Andre Marriner. Goals from Samuel Eto’o, Andre Schuerrle, Eden Hazard, Oscar (2) and Mohamed Salah coupled with Marriner’s decision to send off Kieran Gibbs for a handball by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will ensure Wenger remembers the day for all the wrong reasons. The sending-off did little to affect the destination of the points, however, as Arsenal were already 2-0 down when Gibbs was dismissed for his team mate’s indiscretion and Hazard stepped up to covert the resulting penalty after just 17 minutes.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho extended his unbeaten record against his bitter managerial rival to 11 games and the league leaders moved seven points clear of third-placed Arsenal having played a game more. This was Arsenal’s biggest defeat since they were thrashed 8-2 by Manchester United in 2011 and will feature high on Wenger’s list of worst performances in his 17-1/2 years in charge. It was the second time in six weeks that Arsenal had visited a major title rival and left with their tails between their legs after their 5-1 thrashing by Liverpool last month. In a similar vein to that encounter, their defence was all at sea in the early stages, allowing Chelsea to effectively wrap up the points within minutes of the kickoff.

“We started incredibly,” Mourinho told BT Sport. “Seven minutes gone we were 2-0 up, it’s game over. “We started very strong. I sent the message across that it was very important that we really want Arsenal to feel not comfortable. “The way they play. We managed to do that ...we were too strong for them.” The visitors had the first chance with Olivier Giroud forcing a smart save from Petr Cech after four minutes but seconds later they fell behind. With Arsenal over-committed, Chelsea sprung forward quickly and Schuerrle fed Eto’o in acres of space on the left of the penalty area. The experienced striker cut inside a half-hearted challenge and curled a superb left-foot finish into the corner.

With the Arsenal defence in disarray, Chelsea struck another rapier-like blow after seven minutes, again exposing Arsenal’s open left flank with Schuerrle this time applying the finish with a low drive across Wojciech Szczesny into the corner. It was then Marriner’s turn to rival Arsenal’s blundering backline for the day’s costliest error as he flashed a red card in Gibbs’s direction after Oxlade-Chamberlain had made a diving fingertip save on the line to deny Hazard. Replays showed an incredulous Oxlade-Chamberlain mouthing “it was me” at the official, but the decision stood and Gibbs trudged to the touchline before Hazard calmly stroked the penalty down the middle of the goal after 17 minutes.

Mourinho, often the quickest out of the blocks to criticise officials, this time came to their defence. “There were lots of people in box,” he said. “From the bench you couldn’t see, one of my assistants said it was (Mikel) Arteta, one said Chamberlain. The penalty is a penalty and the red card is a red card, but the wrong player.” The match was over as a contest but Chelsea continued to toy with their opponents, adding a fourth through Oscar who was set up by Fernando Torres to finish from close range three minutes before the break. Arsenal’s calamitous afternoon was neatly encapsulated when Szczesny made a hash of saving Oscar’s curling shot which bounced up off the ground before tamely finding the net. Salah came off the bench to slot his first goal for the club under the Arsenal keeper for Chelsea’s sixth.

Meanwhile, Wenger accepted responsibility for his side’s thrashing and described it as “one of the worst days” of his career. “This defeat is my fault. I take full responsibility for it,” Wenger said. “I don’t think there’s too much need to talk about the mistakes we made. We got a good hiding today. It’s how we respond now on Tuesday night (against Swansea City) and the best way is not to explain too much the mistakes.” Asked if it had been one of the worst days of his career, Wenger replied: “Yes, of course it’s one of the worst days. It’s over after 20 minutes and it’s a long game after that. “You don’t prepare all week to experience that kind of experience. It’s a huge disappointment today, but we want to win the next game now.” Having spoken to broadcasters after the final whistle, Wenger did not appear for his post-match press conference, with an Arsenal official explaining that the team bus had been about to leave.

Despite seeing his side preserve their lead at the head of the table, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho once again played down their title chances. Chelsea are the only team in the top four who are also still in contention in the Champions League, but Mourinho dismissed suggestions that the European campaign could prove a distraction. “We go match after match,” said the Portuguese, whose side were drawn to face French champions Paris Saint-Germain in Friday’s Champions League quarter-final draw. “We play Crystal Palace next and after that we go to Paris. It’s a different situation to Arsenal. It’s a different situation to Liverpool, and Manchester City are also not in that situation. “We are happy to be in that situation.” Asked if Chelsea could win the title, Mourinho told BT Sport: “If they let us.”

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