Feb 4 (Reuters) - Chelsea moved closer towards regaining the Premier League title after their 3-1 drubbing of Arsenal in the table-topping London derby at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Antonio Conte’s side moved 12 points clear of the Gunners with a performance decorated by one of the goals of the season, a dazzling individual effort from Eden Hazard starting from near the halfway line.
The 2015 champions’ command at the top of the table was strengthened further with fourth-placed Liverpool falling 13 point adrift after their wretched 2017 continued with a shock 2-0 defeat at resurgent Hull City.
Hull’s win saw them clamber up one place to 18th in the relegation zone while another startling result featured Crystal Palace, who lost 4-0 at home to bottom club Sunderland, with all the goals coming in the first half.
Tottenham Hotspur had the chance to strengthen their second-placed position, 12 points behind Chelsea, in the day’s late game at home to Middlesbrough.
Conte was a satisfied man as he watched his side avenge their worst defeat of the season in September at the Emirates, the 3-0 reverse that prompted him to change Chelsea’s tactical approach.
The Blues have never looked back since and an early header from Marcos Alonso, the dazzling second-half solo goal from Hazard and a poor clearance from Petr Cech that allowed Cesc Fabregas to chip into an unguarded net in the dying minutes sealed their revenge.
Hazard’s goal was, by his own admission, “beautiful”. The Belgian picked the ball up just inside his own half, swerved away from Laurent Koscielny, outmuscled Francis Coquelin and turned Koscielny inside out again before beating Cech from close range.
Olivier Giroud earned a stoppage-time consolation but a fourth defeat in nine league matches effectively ended Arsenal’s title hopes for another season.
“It was an important game. I consider Arsenal one of the six teams that can fight for the title until the end of the season. To put them 12 points behind is very important for us,” said Conte, after presiding over a 14th home win in 15 games at Stamford Bridge.
“In every session they show me great attitude and great will to fight and win this league.”
Liverpool’s defeat looked to have ended their challenge too as Juergen Klopp’s men succumbed to goals from Hull’s two on-loan Senegalese strikers, Alfred N‘Diaye and Oumar Niasse.
It continued a woeful run for the Reds in 2017, having won only once in their last 10 games -- against lowly fourth-tier Plymouth in the FA Cup.
Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe scored twice in first-half stoppage time as he turned Sam Allardyce’s reunion with his former club into a nightmare, the Palace boss having to watch his side ship three goals in just six minutes before the break.
Sunderland remain bottom on 19 points but now have the same tally as Palace, one behind Hull, who are making dramatic strides under new Portuguese boss Marco Silva.
Everton, unbeaten in the league since Christmas, continued their excellent run with Romelu Lukaku scoring four in their helter-skelter 6-3 win over Bournemouth, his first coming after just 30 seconds to equal the fastest in the League this season.
The Belgian international striker is the league’s leading marksman with 16 goals. (Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Neil Robinson)