Battle won but Chelsea may soon count Costa Diego’s war games

TALK about splitting opinion. Chelsea’s Diego Costa was the key man in a pivotal London derby that has effectively kick-started Chelsea’s season and all but ended Arsenal’s. But he received as much criticism as he did praise afterwards and could today discover if he faces FA disciplinary action.

The Brazil-born Spanish international plays his football on the edge; testing the patience of referees and opponents in equal measure. To Chelsea fans he is already a hero, to many others he is an odious pest and to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger he is an enemy to all he loves about football.

Most importantly, perhaps, in Chelsea’s latest comprehensive victory over Arsenal he was a winner. Like Didier Drogba did before him, his sheer physicality and aggression is difficult for Arsenal to cope with. Unlike Drogba, however, he likes to send opponents tumbling more than going down himself. His fellow countryman Gabriel took such an exception to his behaviour in this match, he got himself sent off for rising to the bait by kicking out and on that one incident the game turned. For the second time in a few days Arsenal showed they are no longer a match for opposition when they are down to ten men. Wenger is still yet to record a win over Mourinho in a competitive match and this performance showed Arsenal are a long way from being title contenders. Chelsea, however, could well go the distance again as they bid to retain the Premier League.

Costa did not score, he has got only one goal this season, but his contribution was key. As Wenger and many other football folk pointed out afterwards, Costa could already have been sent off by referee Mike Dean and might face a retrospective charge for any one of a few incidents.

As so often seems to be the case with Chelsea’s €43m signing from Athletico Madrid last summer, he seems to be a red card and a talking point waiting to happen.

In this match his most obvious indiscretions included slapping and hitting Laurent Koscielny in the face before shoving the Arsenal defender to the ground, scratching the back of Gabriel’s neck and taking a wild kick at Arsenal substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with the game already won. No wonder Mourinho, though he denied any wrong-doing by his player afterwards, quickly substituted his striker after the last kick at an opponent.

Mourinho accused Wenger and Arsenal of moaning and crying in defeat, said Costa was his man of the match and anyone who thought his hitman should have been dismissed must be a [softy] badminton player, not that he is anything against people who hit shuttlecocks for fun.

Some pundits say Chelsea will pay in the long run as referees get wise to his antics and he accumulates red cards and suspensions in future matches. But his track record would suggest he knows where to draw the line and how to get away with it as he has been sent off only four times. Last season he had a retrospective three-game ban for a stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can and his career booking count is now around 100, however. The one in this match was his third of the new season. He got 12 in his debut term at Stamford Bridge. Costa was cautioned nine times in his last season in Spain, 13 and a red the year before that and was booked in each of his three appearances in in the 2011/12 campaign. He was booked more times than he scored goals in his 22 appearances for his first two professional clubs SC Braga and FC Penafiel.

The player himself, has previously admitted he has anger issues. Discussing his earlier career, he reportedly once said: “On the pitch I fought with everyone, I couldn’t control myself. I insulted everyone, I had no respect for the opposition. I thought I had to kill them.”

For as long as he gets away with his antagonistic antics he will be the first name on Mourinho’s team sheet, but it is inevitable he will be under more scrutiny than ever. Costa is not going to change, nor his manager and only time will tell if he starts getting suspended for his behaviour. History would indicate he knows what he is doing and is a master in winding up the opposition. He is likely to be rested for Wednesday’s League Cup tie at Walsall, so it will be the intensity of Newcastle’s St James’s Park this Saturday when we next get to see the best and possibly worst of a player dividing football opinion.


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