Mertesacker sees red as Wenger hits out at ‘clever’ striker
German defender was dismissed in first-half Arsenal manager claims decision was ‘harsh’
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