Fernando Torres scored twice as Chelsea reignited its faltering Premier League title challenge yesterday with a 3-1 win at Sunderland. Juan Mata scored the other goal as Chelsea earned its first league win under Rafael Benitez to move within four points of second-placed Manchester City, while Sunderland dropped into the relegation zone.
Champions City take on leaders Manchester United in the top-of-the-table clash today.
It was Chelsea's second win in a week but their first in the league since October, and despite a late flurry from Sunderland, they deserved their victory.
"The team had a winning mentality," said a delighted Benitez. "There were lots of positives. It is fair to say we are watching Fernando now with more confidence and more belief. If Fernando Torres has chances he will score."
Torres looks sharp from the start and he finished off a nice move to put Chelsea in front after just 11 minutes. The Spaniard, who had been the target of much criticism for his poor form until two Champions League goals in midweek, doubled his side's lead from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time after a foul on Ramires.
Mata made it 3-0 just four minutes into the second half but Adam Johnson pulled one back with a stunning strike, Sunderland hit the crossbar and forced Petr Cech into a couple of good saves late on. In the end, though, Chelsea were good value for their win and will head to Japan this week for the Club World Cup with increasing confidence. Frank Lampard returned to the fold as a second-half substitute after several weeks out through injury.
The result dropped Sunderland into the relegation zone, with Southampton moving the other way after a 1-0 win over second-bottom Reading, and QPR still bottom despite a 2-2 draw at Wigan Athletic.
Arsenal moved up to sixth place with a 2-0 win over fifth-placed West Bromwich Albion, thanks to two penalties by Mikel Arteta. Manager Arsene Wenger had been criticized for his side's poor run of form of late, but Arteta eased his worries, even if the first penalty, for a supposed foul on Santi Cazorla, looked fortunate.
"I am sorry if it was not a penalty," Wenger said, "but I spoke to Cazorla and he said he [Steven Reid] tapped him."
Arsenal are now just two points behind Tottenham in fourth place, and though Spurs could extend the gap today with a win at Everton, Wenger was happy with the way his players responded from a mini slump.
"I am proud of our victory because it's important for our season and because our spirit has been questioned," he said.
Southampton moved away from the bottom three after a hard-fought, occasionally scrappy 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Reading with a goal from Jason Puncheon.
QPR remain bottom despite picking up a point in a 2-2 draw at Wigan, making it three draws in a row since Harry Redknapp's arrival. But Redknapp will be disappointed not to have taken all three points after Djibril Cisse put them ahead late in the second half, only for James McCarthy to score his second goal of the game and seal a draw for the home side.
The result means QPR are still winless this season and now boast the longest winless start to a Premier League season, at 16 games, surpassing the record previously held by Swindon Town in 1993-94.
The most entertaining match of the day came at Swansea, where the home side was beaten 4-3 by Norwich, who led 3-0 at half-time. A strong fight back from the Welsh side caused Norwich concern late on, but they held on to make it nine Premier League games without defeat.
Aston Villa drew 0-0 with Stoke City in the day's other game.
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