Costa proves too clever again for an­gry Wenger

Striker ben­e­fits from Merte­sacker’s mad­ness to blow ti­tle race wide open

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - FRONT PAGE - Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL CORRESPONDENT at the Emi­rates Sta­dium

The sight of Petr Cech lift­ing three Arse­nal play­ers – Lau­rent Ko­scielny, Gabriel and Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain – off the turf af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle summed it up. This was an en­counter when Arse­nal were floored; a dam­ag­ing de­feat and a real test of their char­ac­ter to see how they re­spond.

It was one of those games to which they are prone, also; one of those games when things con­spired against them, when the wheels buck­led be­neath them, and just as they are on the brink of mak­ing an em­phatic state­ment it is, cru­elly, they who suf­fer the psy­cho­log­i­cal blowout.

It will have hurt even more that it was Chelsea and Diego Costa who in­flicted it. The striker has be­come Arse­nal’s new neme­sis, tak­ing up the man­tle from Di­dier Drogba who bul­lied and ter­rorised his way to 15 goals in 15 games against Arse­nal. A con­so­la­tion? At least Jose Mour­inho was not sit­ting in the op­po­si­tion dug-out.

It was not the only con­so­la­tion. Arse­nal are em­phat­i­cally in this ti­tle race, just three points be­hind Le­ices­ter City, and they kept go­ing de­spite be­ing re­duced to 10 men in the 18th minute. They wel­comed back Alexis Sánchez from in­jury and Fran­cis Co­quelin has re­turned to train­ing and will soon be ready to re­place the far less dis­ci­plined Mathieu Flamini who was given the runaround by his friend Cesc Fabre­gas and also missed Arse­nal’s three best chances. It was that kind of game.

It is just eight points from 18 for Arse­nal and, al­though that does not look good, if this is their wob­ble it is not caus­ing too much dam­age. Yet. But how they could have done with not los­ing this one as it is a re­sult that re-opened wounds Arsène Wenger will not want to re-visit.

The sta­tis­tics are bad. It is nine matches now since Arse­nal beat Chelsea in the league; it is six matches since they even scored a goal against them. And Per Merte­sacker’s red card was the fourth they have suf­fered in five matches against Chelsea.

It was a dis­missal that pro­voked de­bate but looked the right call by ref­eree Mark Clat­ten­burg. Yes, Costa rolled and rolled and rolled but Merte­sacker im­peded his run, he de­nied a goal-scor­ing op­por­tu­nity and he could have no com­plaints.

The Arse­nal cap­tain was ex­posed. Ex­cept for this game he was not the Arse­nal cap­tain with the armband pass­ing to Theo Wal­cott who is cel­e­brat­ing 10 years at the club. But was it an oc­ca­sion to do that? It may have made no dif­fer­ence but it did not look pro­fes­sional. Merte­sacker’s foul was. He was caught out and paid the price – and the cen­tral de­fender knew it.

Costa’s run was clever but so was Wil­lian’s through ball – af­ter the im­pres­sive mid­fielder had burst for­ward, rid­ing Na­cho Mon­real’s tackle – to pick out the striker who had smartly pulled away from Ko­scielny to the slower Merte­sacker.

Quite why Merte­sacker then glanced across to the as­sis­tant ref­eree Si­mon Beck be­fore mak­ing the chal­lenge was un­fath­omable. He hoped for off­side, of course, maybe he hoped Ko­scielny was closer, but he lost a split se­cond – and that mat­tered – and then had to lunge. Costa went over; Merte­sacker went off.

The at­mos­phere be­came even more febrile. But the cool heads were in Chelsea shirts. This was a game when John Terry was im­pe­ri­ous, Fabre­gas in­ci­sive, Costa ir­re­press­ible. There was in­dus­try and ag­gres­sion from Wil­lian and Os­car and a nod of ap­proval from care­taker man­ager Guus Hid­dink whose only com­plaint was that Chelsea did not kill it with a se­cond goal.

But that is also a re­flec­tion of where they are right now. If Chelsea had lost this game they would have lurched to­wards a fresh cri­sis; a bout of in­tro­spec­tion and anx­i­ety over the prospect of rel­e­ga­tion. In­stead, once more, they felt em­bold­ened to talk about climb­ing the ta­ble with Terry push­ing the en­ve­lope by men­tion­ing a tilt at the top four. What a dif­fer­ence one game can make.

In fair­ness this was prob­a­bly

Chelsea’s best per­for­mance of the sea­son af­ter two in­dif­fer­ent home dis­plays that fol­lowed their pre­vi­ous best per­for­mance of the sea­son away to Crys­tal Palace. Their re­cov­ery re­mains a slow burner but the flame is flick­er­ing.

Hid­dink’s emol­lient ap­proach, with a bit of ur­bane spik­i­ness also, is cer­tainly coax­ing more out of Costa. His goal capped a mad five-minute pe­riod with Merte­sacker’s send­ing off and then Wenger re­act­ing by bring­ing on Gabriel. That made sense – he needed an­other cen­tre-half – but he sac­ri­ficed Olivier Giroud. The striker was as­ton­ished while the Arse­nal fans were an­gry.

If Wenger’s de­ci­sion was tac­ti­cally log­i­cal – down to 10-men he knew his team would have to play more on the counter and he wanted to use Wal­cott’s pace – it nev­er­the­less sent out the wrong mes­sage. It spoke of dam­age lim­i­ta­tion.

There was also the prob­lem of Gabriel who had been dis­missed in the re­verse fix­ture ear­lier this sea­son af­ter be­ing pro­voked by Costa and the Brazil­ian did not ap­pear to know how to re­act this time round.

In­stead, he failed to re­act. As did Ko­scielny. It came as Ne­manja Matic’s cross was al­lowed to bounce the length of the penalty area to be col­lected on the other flank by Branislav Ivanovic who whipped the ball in to­wards the near post. There was Costa to tuck a close-range shot past Cech. It was Costa’s fifth goal in five games – af­ter scor­ing three in his pre­vi­ous 14 – and Cech then de­nied him with a fine save, hav­ing also beaten out a Wil­lian shot, be­fore Mon­real cleared Ivanovic’s header off the line and Ko­scielny was for­tu­nate not to con­cede a penalty as he body-checked Fabre­gas.

For Arse­nal, Flamini slipped when given a sight of goal and then volleyed over. Twice the ball pin­ponged around the Chelsea area with, again, Flamini fail­ing to make suf­fi­cient con­tact. Hid­dink in­flicted the heav­i­est de­feat – 4-1 – Arse­nal have en­dured at the Emi­rates Sta­dium dur­ing his first spell at Chelsea in 2009. The ques­tion is: has he now in­flicted the most dam­ag­ing?

Blue heaven: Diego Costa beats Petr Cech to seal vic­tory for Chelsea

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.