Premier League Hangover: Arsenal Count the Costa of Chelsea Defeat

Alex Dunn@@aldunn80Featured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2015

Two naughty Arsenal players gang up on the immaculately behaved Diego Costa.
Two naughty Arsenal players gang up on the immaculately behaved Diego Costa.Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

When Diego Costa broke from his mother’s womb, chewing on raw tobacco and brandishing an imaginary yellow card at the midwife for allowing him to enter the world naked, his father looked down at his offspring and knew instantly what he’d call him. An elder sibling had been christened Jair after Brazil legend Jairzinho, but the latest addition to the Costa clan would take the moniker of Argentina's favourite son.

A Brazilian named after Diego Maradona was never going to become an accountant.

Instead, from the moment he could nip, kick, nibble, jostle, spit, slap, gouge, pinch, elbow walk, young Diego, with a ball at his feet, became the Rolling Stones song "Street Fighting Man" brought to life—albeit with more forearm smashes and less pelvic thrusts.

In Fran Guillen's excellent Costa biography, Diego Costa: The Art of War, the Chelsea man recounts how the schooling that taught him his craft is not part of the curriculum at Premier League academies these days.

"When you play street football you learn to be smarter than the rest. I made no attempt to control myself and was always ready for a bit of aggro," said Costa, evoking mental images of emptying streets in the Brazilian city of Lagarto like Omar used to do in Baltimore in The Wire

"My mates and I would often end the game in tears." 

To look to the past is usually a decent way to make sense of the present. To plot patterns of bad behaviour with Costa, his personal annals usually only need to be opened to the previous week.

For all the furore, Costa played on Saturday as he has played in each of his Chelsea games to date. It's the way he's played since his days of making bigger kids cry back in Brazil, and in his defence, he's not been sent off since 2012. That's 122 games and counting. For a player supposedly out of control, he's not half bad at playing within the rules.

While a player who is simultaneously bully and snitch, at once the bull and the matador as he was against Arsenal nauseates many, there is something uniquely fascinating about a man who steadfastly refuses to grow up.

Like Peter Pan reimagined by Hunter S. Thompson (or a "petulant baby," according to Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport), Costa is a hulking mass of malevolence who flips the bird at pretty much everyone and then makes confetti out of pious column inches pontificating over his actions. Let's hope he's got a wedding to go to this week.

That he walks the line more often than Johnny Cash is not in question. Both the player and Jose Mourinho regularly cede as much. On Saturday, the consensus was that he not only crossed said line but also tied it in a loop before lassoing it around the neck of Gabriel Paulista to hang the Arsenal defender out to dry. 

Quite how Mike Dean missed Costa pulling a giant key out of his shorts, like the ones used to give life to old tin toys, to first cosh Laurent Koscielny around the face with it and then wind up Gabriel to the point of tailspin, is something Saturday's referee will be able to mull over when officiating Football League games in the next few weeks. One suspects it won't just be Gabriel given a Premier League break.

On Saturday, not a single foul was awarded against Costa. To the watching world, his misdemeanours in the immediate buildup to Gabriel's red card, on the stroke of half-time, were about as discreet as a grand piano in a bedsit.

Costa could have given a pitch-perfect recital of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on it and Dean wouldn't have noticed. A player who would make any Usual Suspects lineup routinely manages to pull off the film's most famous line: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

A hand in Koscielny's face that was twice accidental in the same way the Marx Brothers would accidentally trip each other up could have brought a booking. A chest bump that toppled the Arsenal man after the two engaged in a further round of sparring in the box was worth at least the same again. Earlier in the game, waving an imaginary yellow card could have earned him his own.

Gabriel then entered the fray, initially as peacemaker, but he was soon pulled into Costa's orbit and received a booking. As, finally, did the Chelsea man.

Like a policeman telling two fighting drunks to pack it in before turning his back to order a pint himself, Dean lost control of the situation, allowing the pair to bicker all the way to the halfway line. Costa whispered sweet nothings into Gabriel's ear. Idiotically, the Arsenal defender proceeded to flick back a leg toward his bete noire in full view of Dean. The look of incredulity that enveloped Costa's face was pure pantomime. Clearly Gabriel had heard the crowd bellow "he's behind you."

He was rewarded with a straight red card for an act of shooting one's self in the foot that had Arsenal patented over the years, they'd have been able to afford that striker that continues to elude them.

That the game—which incidentally, if anyone is interested, Chelsea won 2-0 as Arsenal ultimately went down to nine men when Santi Cazorla was dismissed late on—has largely become a footnote to a Costa controversy says much about his ability to fester under the skin.

"He will do the same next week and the week after and he will get away with it," said Arsene Wenger post-match, via the Guardian. He continued:

He can do what he wants and everyone else gets sent off. He always gets away with it. He took advantage of the naivety of my team today.

I understand referee Mike Dean's decision to send Gabriel off. He was guilty and should not have got involved but why does Costa stay on the pitch after what he has done?

Costa stayed on the pitch because he's smarter than Gabriel, and Chelsea won the game because they're smarter than Arsenal. Had Costa been wearing red on Saturday, Arsenal would probably have won the game and it would have been Kurt Zouma or Gary Cahill sat in the dressing room wondering how to detach Costa's giant hook from their cheek.

Wenger talks of naivety almost as if it's an endearing quality. Mourinho post-match was happy to give a little sermon on the art of game management.

"I played my first derby in September 2000," he explained, via the Independent

"Benfica against Sporting. And I told my players before the game that to win derbies you need emotional control. Without emotional control, forget it, you won't win. It's a basic thing of the game."

Mourinho's performance was as bullish as his striker's. When Costa's rap sheet was presented to him, the journalist who had posed the question, Andy Burton, was accused, of all things, of playing badminton at school. 

“I can guess when you were a kid you were playing badminton. Great sport. You didn't play rugby. Trust me. You played badminton,” sneered Mourinho, via Sky Sports. It was hard not to imagine Mourinho and Costa chasing Burton around the court, doubling up to fire shuttlecocks at the weedy kid in a vest.

"If you want to speak about Diego Costa with me, it's just to say he played like he has to play. And that's why you have full stadiums, you sell to televisions around the world for millions and millions, because the game has to be played like that."

Mourinho loves Costa because he loves himself. Mourinho always insists it is John Terry who is his on-field lieutenant, but his centre-forward is the player he'd have loved to have been himself.

The pair are so alike with their win-at-all-cost mentalities it wouldn't have been a surprise had Costa, once he'd stopped sulking on being substituted on 81 minutes, removed his head like a Scooby-Doo disguise to reveal he was in fact Chelsea's manager all along.

Hailing Hammers for Perfect Away Day(s)

Adrian pulled off a few superb saves, but West Ham were value for their win at Eastlands.
Adrian pulled off a few superb saves, but West Ham were value for their win at Eastlands.Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Statistically, West Ham United's 2-1 win at Manchester City was a quintessential smash-and-grab job. Manuel Pellegrini's side enjoyed, if that's the right word, 72 per cent possession, had 27 attempts on goal to West Ham's six and won the corner count 16-3, according to WhoScored.com.

For pretty much the whole of the second half, after Kevin De Bruyne's fine daisy-cutter on a formidable full City debut had halved the deficit on the stoke of half-time, West Ham were camped on their own 18-yard line.

Winston Reid was as outstanding as Sergio Aguero was unusually subdued, while goalkeeper Adrian's 85th-minute save to tip over Nicolas Otamendi's header off a De Bruyne corner deserved cap-dothing all round.

And yet, perversely, there's an argument to say West Ham thoroughly deserved a third successive away victory that adds the scalp of the Etihad Stadium to the Emirates and Anfield. West Ham have already matched the amount of matches they won away from Upton Park in the whole of last season.

For that, Slaven Bilic cannot take enough credit. West Ham's first half on Saturday was almost the perfect away performance. When City had possession, they had everyone behind the ball, but when they won the ball back, they broke en masse with an infectious abandon.

They managed that rare feat of retaining a tight shape while being expansive. The surprise element of Victor Moses' opener, which breached City's defence for the first time in 572 minutes of league football, almost disguised how good a goal it was. His searing finish was the culmination of 13 completed passes, possibly more than they managed in some games under Sam Allardyce last season.

Diafra Sakho's second was less spectacular, but it's worth noting the corner it was scored off was won by a full-back Carl Jenkinson, who was happy bomb forward, away at City, with West Ham already leading. Bilic may park the bus, but he always leaves the handbrake off.

West Ham have some lovely ball-players these days such as Manuel Lanzini and in particular Dimitri Payet, but they're thriving because as a side they are so well drilled. It's this facet of their make-up that gives the likes of Payet a platform to showcase his undoubted talent. 

There's a real cohesion to their shape, and while it's still very early days, that Bilic has them playing confidently from the back is a measure of the remarkable job he's done given the league season is just six games old.

Pellegrini, who lost David Silva to injury in the warm-up and also without Vincent Kompany, refused to cite mitigating circumstances as an excuse for his side losing a five-month winning run in the Premier League, which stretched to 11 matches, via the Guardian:

One thing I never do is to have an excuse about players that cannot play.

We had players that could play and those players know the way they must play. They are good players, I have a strong squad and because David [Silva] and [Vincent] Kompany could not play we cannot have excuses that we have lost to West Ham at home.

Are Proper Strikers Back in Vogue?

Callum Wilson is one of a number of young strikers to have hit the ground running.
Callum Wilson is one of a number of young strikers to have hit the ground running.Tony Marshall/Getty Images

In an era when false nines and inverted wingers are all the rage and proper centre-forwards are about as fashionable as a Jeremy Clarkson jean convention, isn't it wonderful to see a fresh smattering of strikers regularly scoring in the Premier League?

Leicester City's meandering maverick Riyad Mahrez may be the league's joint-top goalscorer from deep, but he's the anomaly on a list of bona fide centre-forwards.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that, upon promotion, the hardest thing for new sides to do is score goals, so that Bournemouth and Watford both boast strikers with five apiece already is quite the fillip.

Callum Wilson was championed for an England call-up by his manager, Eddie Howe, via the Bournemouth Echo, after his goal and demolition job on Sunderland, while Odion Ighalo's brace against Newcastle United continued Watford's fine start to the campaign and ensured the north east is still searching for a first Premier League win 12 games in and counting.

A fourth of the campaign for Jamie Vardy to rescue Leicester a point at Stoke City means he needs just one more goal to match last season's league total.

Graziano Pelle took his tally for the campaign to four with a brace on Sunday against Manchester United, while Anthony Martial looks like he doesn't mind the odd goal, either, as a pair of unerring finishes at St Mary's were added to his virtuoso effort off the bench against Liverpool last time out in the league.

Proper strikers, for now, are back. Long may it continue.

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