Emma Hayes lauded “maverick” Lauren James’ performance in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Women’s Super League title rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

James impressed once again and scored Chelsea’s opener when she latched onto a through ball, showed good skills to open up a shooting opportunity before drilling in a shot which Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger got her hands to but was unable to keep out.

Sjoeke Nusken then struck twice more in the first half to put the game beyond Arsenal as Chelsea moved three points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table.

It was an impressive display from the reigning WSL champions in a game delayed by a sock clash, and James’ performance in front of 33,000 fans in west London drew special praise from her coach.

“It’s a playground for her out there,” Hayes said.

“We coach many different players but Lauren is a maverick. It’s not always perfect, it’s not always on point, it’s not always consistent in every element but I understand her as a person and I know that when we get to Stamford Bridge she will 1000 per cent perform for the team here.

Lauren James

“She did her job out of possession with Nusken and I thought she played with joy and freedom when the ball was played to her feet.

“She can carry the weight of the crowd and knows she’s important for the team. I’m happy for her.”

James had been a doubt for the game after battling with illness earlier in the week but Hayes admitted she needed the 22-year-old England international.

She added: “She’d been sick all week. She came on against Everton and wasn’t very well, she came out for one training session and I told her that she has to go and play up top because we don’t have another striker.”

Chelsea v Arsenal – Barclays Women’s Super League – Stamford Bridge

Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall, whose third-placed side netted a late consolation through Catarina Macario’s own goal, said failing to deal with James contributed to their downfall.

“We allowed Chelsea to play (with) our organisation and that was their plan when playing James at nine,” he said.

“She’s very good and I thought we dealt with her very poorly and that was a big part of us not performing well enough to push for the result or the win today.”