Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0: The latest chapter in the rivalry between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho was dominated by the debate about Diego Costa’s gamesmanship, but revealed more about the two managers and their respective teams, Arsenal and Chelsea.
For all the indignation about Costa’s role in provoking Gabriel Paulista into the most ineffectual, yet costly, of retaliations, Arsenal had been suckered. They finished the game with nine men, when Santi Cazorla followed Gabriel into the dressing room, yet they were the callow innocents.
Having been backed into a corner after their worst start since 1988, Chelsea knew what they had to do to win a game that, beforehand, appeared to offer Arsenal — and Wenger — their best chance of beating a Mourinho side in the Premier League.
By contrast, Wenger’s side lacked the steel, the know-how, and the wit to break down a Chelsea that had been lifted by the midweek Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv and galvanised by the prospects of reviving their domestic campaign against one of their closest rivals.
Chelsea found a way, while Arsenal faltered. That is a pattern that has been repeated so often during the last decade or so, since Mourinho’s first season at Stamford Bridge, when he wrested the title away from the north London club to usher in a period of prolonged success for his own club, and a period of drought for Wenger’s.
The reaction of the two managers was inevitable, with Mourinho cocky and upbeat, Wenger angry, frustrated and nursing an enormous sense of injustice. In keeping with the fractious relationship between the pair, Mourinho highlighted the Frenchman’s failings by praising the quality of the Arsenal squad.
“I think Arsenal has the squad to be champions. And every season I feel that,” said the Chelsea manager, prompting the question why they have failed to mount a sustained challenge for the title for eleven seasons. “I don’t know,” Mournho replied. “But that’s my feeling. I like every player.”
And if Mourinho were in charge of that group of players? “I am not. I am not,” he said. “I just tell you that I like every player. I tell you, if one of their players is a free agent and they don’t want him there, I get every one. I like all of their players.”
The inference was crystal clear. With Wenger at the helm, Arsenal have under-achieved, at least according to Mourinho. Never mind the bi-annual debate about the club’s activities when the transfer window is open, in the Chelsea manager’s eyes they have players good enough to be serial winners.
Hardly a surprise, given Mourinho once described Wenger as a “specialist in failure” and Mourinho never misses an opportunity to comment on the longevity the Frenchman enjoys at the Emirates Stadium, despite having won just two FA Cups in the last ten years.
For too long, there has been something missing from Arsenal’s make-up that has prevented them achieving success, and on Saturday that was common sense. Neither team had impressed during the 44 minutes before the flashpoint, although, as the team battling to recover form, Chelsea were entitled to feel more satisfied.
Then, Gabriel walked into a red card, allowing himself to be goaded into kicking out at Costa, after he had intervened when the Chelsea striker had first lashed out and had then pushed Laurent Koscielny to the ground.
Wenger called for the FA to review Costa’s actions and impose retrospective action on the Spain forward, but while Mourinho’s defence of his player may have been unnecessarily robust, the sum total of both players’ offending behaviour amounted to little more than a series of petulant flicks, pushes and gestures. It was unseemly, but at no point dangerous or threatening.
Arsenal could not afford another mistake, but it came in the 53rd minute, when Koscielny inexplicably broke the defensive line, playing Kurt Zouma onside and allowing the defender to head home Cesc Fabregas’ free-kick. Cazorla picked up a second yellow card for a late challenge on Fabregas, in the 79th minute, and Chelsea’s victory was sealed when Eden Hazard’s shot deflected off Callum Chambers in added time.
“We are standing up to teams now, but you want to do it in a controlled way,” said Wenger. “We are equipped to respond, but we always have to keep control of our response.”
Begovic 7; Ivanovic 6, Zouma 7, Cahill 8, Azpilicueta7; Matic 7, Fabregas 9 (Mikel 90); Pedro 7, Oscar 8 (Ramires 68,6), Hazard 7; Diego Costa 7 (Remy 82,6).
Cech 7; Bellerin 6, Gabriel 3, Koscielny 6, Monreal 7; Coquelin 6 (Chambers 46,7), Cazorla 6, Ramsey 5, Ozil 5 (Giroud 75), Sanchez 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75, 6); Walcott 5.
Mike Dean 5
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