Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0 comment: Any way to win suits Diego Costa - and Jose Mourinho

Wenger talks a good professional game but his players fail to play it

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Let anyone who is tempted to cite Diego Costa’s foul conduct on Saturday lunchtime as evidence of football lacking the purity possessed by rugby consider some of the finer details of England’s win over Fiji the night before. Dominiko Waqaniburotu’s spear tackle on the winger Jonny May was not so good.

While Costa’s goading is on another level – devious, nasty, psychological, dishonest: he was waving an imaginary yellow card at referee Mike Dean before the game was five minutes gone – the spoils go to those who can deal with that.

Any player who has failed to see how Costa will seek to get inside your head must have been watching the badminton on the other side, to borrow from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s response when the Brazil-born striker’s crime sheet was put to him on Saturday evening. (“I can guess when you were a kid you were playing badminton. Great sport.”)

Arsène Wenger spoke well about how winners must be able to deal with provocation. “You have to be above that,” he said. “That’s part of the game. To be professional, to me, is to deal with that. You can spit in my face and if it’s in a game then I will not respond. I do not guarantee that outside of the game! What I mean is that the desire to win has to be above all of that.” But the Arsenal manager’s words and his team’s deeds were two very different things.

 

It was not as if Costa had the psychological edge born of football superiority. Two of his shots from distance drew saves from Petr Cech but you sense the mental maelstrom he manufactures is beginning to overwhelm him. He ran into blind alleys. His distribution was generally weak. The substitute Calum Chambers had twice halted him within five minutes of taking the field. He took a different path: cheating Arsenal into a red card by a classic wind-up act on Gabriel Paulista.

Their capitulation to the Costa circus belonged to a broader lack of steel. For 10 minutes Arsenal examined the Chelsea jugular, Alexis Sanchez tearing at Branislav Ivanovic. But all that promise evaporated. Arsenal cursed the referee who reduced them to nine men yet there were barely 11 of them contributing before the red cards were issued. Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil were shadows.

And when the moment arrived to stand firm their defence melted, Nacho Monreal failing to head back in to deal with Kurt Zouma’s run to meet Cesc Fabregas’s free-kick. Sanchez, the marker, had also allowed Zouma to go. It is tempting to cite Zouma’s finish, with its hallmarks of John Terry, as evidence of the changing of the Chelsea guard, though Arsenal did not concern the back line enough to say this was a test passed. An Eden Hazard shot deflected in off Chambers a minute from time put a lid on things.

There was occasional positive electricity from Chelsea, smart exchange between Hazard and Costa and the same between Oscar and Fabregas, whose performance was as good as Chelsea got. But this was one of those days Mourinho had marked out as one to squeeze the life out of the opposition by any available means. He raised his hand for Oscar when the 24-year-old was withdrawn but embraced Costa when he departed. “Man of the match,” he declared later, meaning it. He was also genuine in his claim that there is calculation and emotional control in the way Costa plays. “He trains like he plays. Fantastic,” Mourinho said.

Perhaps the in-house publishing team, who put Costa on the front of the match programme, intuited all this.

“It’s difficult to play against him,” Mourinho said of the striker. “It’s difficult to play against [Wayne] Rooney. It’s difficult to play against [Christian] Benteke. It’s difficult to play against [Luis] Suarez. It’s difficult to play against [Gonzalo] Higuain. It’s difficult to play against people with this aggressivity. But it’s because of these players that football is what football is, because they create passion.” Some would choose another word but Chelsea’s manager will live with that. He thinks he has been put on this earth to win. He will never be fussy about the ways and means.

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