Merte­sacker sees red as Wenger hits out at ‘clever’ striker

Ger­man de­fender was dis­missed in first-half Arse­nal man­ager claims de­ci­sion was ‘harsh’

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Matt Law at the Emi­rates Sta­dium

Arsène Wenger la­belled Diego Costa as “clever” af­ter Per Merte­sacker be­came the lat­est Arse­nal player to see red against the striker and Chelsea ex­tended their un­beaten league run to nine games against the Gun­ners.

Merte­sacker was sent off in the 18th minute for a late chal­lenge on Costa, who was run­ning to­wards goal. The 27-year-old, who con­tro­ver­sially got Gabriel sent off at Stam­ford Bridge this sea­son, scored the win­ning goal five min­utes later.

The re­sult meant that Arse­nal have now gone nine Premier League games with­out beat­ing Chelsea and have failed to score in the past six League meet­ings be­tween the two clubs, stretch­ing over 572 min­utes.

A vic­tory would have sent Arse­nal back to the top of the Premier League ta­ble, but Wenger’s side now trail the lead­ers Le­ices­ter City by three points and have taken two points from their past three games. Asked about Merte­sacker’s red card, the man­ager said: “I think it was quick and harsh, but I have to watch it again.

“The ref­eree made a de­ci­sion and we have to get on with it. Costa got two play­ers sent off in two games against our side. So he’s clever.”

Wenger at­tempted to clar­ify his com­ment on Costa, who was forced off with a knee in­jury, by adding: “I said Costa got two of our play­ers sent off in the last two games against Chelsea. Those are only facts. Is the de­ci­sion right or wrong? I don’t know. It is a fact, with­out ac­cus­ing him of any­thing.

“I don’t know if Costa was off­side or not, or if Per Merte­sacker touched him or not. It was frus­trat­ing, of course, but it’s a de­ci­sion we have to take on the chin and get on with our job. We did that.

“The team were fo­cused and re­silient, fight­ing to the last. De­spite the dis­ap­point­ing re­sult, we should have given more be­lief to our game by that per­for­mance.”

Guus Hid­dink, the Chelsea in­terim man­ager, was adamant that the ref­eree Mark Clat­ten­burg was right to give Merte­sacker his march­ing or­ders so early in the game. “There was no doubt,” Hid­dink said.

“You could see it as a beau­ti­ful through pass from Wil­lian to Diego. He was hit and it was ob­vi­ous it was a red card. I’d like to see the im­age and I’d give a fair judge­ment but, from what I saw, he was tripped.”

De­spite be­ing down to 10 men, Arse­nal pushed for an equaliser in the se­cond half but ul­ti­mately failed to break their goal drought against a Chelsea side that have strug­gled to keep clean sheets this sea­son.

Ex­plain­ing Arse­nal’s abysmal record against Chelsea, Wenger said: “To­day was a spe­cial game. We played with 10 men. We were 10 down straight away. Nor­mally, you’d lose a game like that 3-0 or 40, if you’re chas­ing a game.

“We come out with a lot of re­grets be­cause we couldn’t play with ‘our’ team, and there was a lot of room to beat Chelsea to­day look­ing at them if we’d had 11 play­ers.”

Chelsea are still 14 points be­hind fourth-placed Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur but John Terry, the cap­tain, has still not given up on qual­i­fy­ing for the Cham­pi­ons League next sea­son.

“Any­thing is pos­si­ble,” Terry said. “Ev­ery­body is beat­ing ev­ery­body else. It is a tough league and if we put a run to­gether we have a good chance [of fourth]. We will fight un­til there are no points to play for.”

Hid­dink added: “If the cap­tain says yes, then we’ll fol­low the cap- tain. It’s a gap and, with that gap, it’s dif­fi­cult to go into fourth po­si­tion. But I will fol­low my cap­tain.”

Chelsea will have to wait to take Drogba back to Stam­ford Bridge as a coach af­ter Mon­treal Im­pact con­firmed that they ex­pected him to join their train­ing camp in Fe­bru­ary. The Ivo­rian is still ex­pected to take a coach­ing role at Chelsea, but it seems that he will com­plete the fi­nal year of his Mon­treal con­tract first. Asked if his re­turn to Mon­treal ended Chelsea’s at­tempts to bring Drogba back, Hid­dink said: “In the short-term, yes but in the longer term we are talk­ing about play­ers of a big im­age and fo­cus of this club.

“There is no time is­sue with this and I wish him all the best for the next sea­son.”

‘Costa got two play­ers sent off in the last two games against our side, so he’s clever.’

Gunned down: Arsène Wenger was left frus­trated as his side slipped to de­feat

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