LONDON – This season at Chelsea, the “Special One” might well be Eden Hazard. The Belgium international produced another superb display on Saturday, scoring a hat trick as Jose Mourinho’s team moved top of the Premier League with a 3-0 win over Newcastle while its main rivals in the race for the title struggled on the road.
Liverpool exposed previous leader Arsenal’s frailties in a 5-1 drubbing of the Gunners at Anfield and third-placed Manchester City was held to a goalless draw at Norwich.
Hazard, coming off an excellent performance in Chelsea’s surprise win at City on Monday, scored twice within seven minutes in the first half and added another goal from the penalty spot after the interval as the Blues leapfrogged bitter rival Arsenal.
Liverpool went on a scoring rampage at lunchtime, netting four times in the first 20 minutes to end Arsenal’s eight-match unbeaten sequence with a bang.
“It was a very poor day. We were poor defensively, offensively,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said after the hammering. “Liverpool played very well, so congratulations to them. But it was a poor performance on a day when we couldn’t afford it.”
The loss will again raise questions about Arsenal’s abilities to win its first title since 2004 with the Gunners having already lost 6-3 to Manchester City earlier this season.
“Defensively we need to be more stable,” Wenger said. “Today we were too open. From the front to the back we were not at the level we are used to.”
City’s current goal drought continued as Manuel Pellegrini’s team missed the chance to move top of the standings. Saturday’s draw left City third with 54 points, two behind Chelsea.
Hazard’s first goal came in the 27th minute, with the Belgium playmaker slotting home from Branislav Ivanovic’s pass from the right. Chelsea scored again on the counter-attack as Hazard played a beautiful one-two with Samuel Eto’o.
“I know today we are top of the league but I look to fifth place,” Mourinho said, playing down the importance of his team’s result. “I look to Tottenham vs. Everton and Manchester United vs. Fulham tomorrow and I want to be far from fifth. When we are far from fifth and have a Champions League position under control, then it will be time to look at Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool and see where they are and see the distances.”
City had scored 68 goals from 23 league matches before losing 1-0 to Chelsea and again struggled at Carrow Road against lowly Norwich, which earned a crucial point in the relegation fight.
City hit the crossbar in the first half through a header from Alvaro Negredo but Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy otherwise spent a quiet afternoon as the Canaries missed a chance to snatch victory in stoppage time when Nathan Redmond’s cross flew through the six-yard box just ahead of Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
At Anfield, the Reds reignited their title challenge with a victory that boosted their hopes of finishing in the top four as they look to secure a place in the Champions League next season.
Liverpool was irresistible in the early stages and all over Arsenal defenders, with every attack tearing apart the Gunners. Martin Skrtel scored in the first minute and doubled his team’s lead nine minutes later. Raheem Sterling then made it 3-0 before Daniel Sturridge beat Wojciech Szczesny with a left-footed shot in the bottom corner. Sterling then completed a brace after halftime.
Mikel Arteta pulled one back for Arsenal from the penalty spot.