Arsenal 0 – 1 Chelsea
0 – 1 Costa (23)
Sent off: Mertesacker (20)
It was an inevitable outcome in so many ways. Having seen Manchester City fluff their lines on Saturday, Arsenal contrived to do the same as we have done at other times in the season. And with echoes of the past ringing in our ears, a Chelsea striker has got into the minds of the players and manager.
What has been a distinctly average Chelsea side this season presented themselves at The Emirates and won. Even before being handed a numerical advantage, they started the better of the two sides. A quick goal after that settled matters. It might have been double had the referee not inexplicably denied Chelsea a penalty when Cesc was baulked in the area.
But the red card. As Arsène said afterwards, two games against Chelsea this season in the Premier League have resulted in two red cards for Arsenal, caused by the same player, Diego Costa. This presumably isn’t the same Diego Costa whom he claimed his players were ready for because if it was, they certainly weren’t.
Even before Mertesacker’s dismissal, Costa had targeted his lack of pace and was lurking on his shoulder. The sending off itself proved contentious. In real time, there was no doubt Clattenberg made the right decision. It was only when replays showed that Costa had dived that debate began.
Per was the last man and no other defender was getting across. Costa was through if he had stayed on his feet so it was a direct goal scoring opportunity which leaves the interpretation of Mertesacker’s intentions. In that scenario, an official is always going to believe the intention is to foul if you can’t get ball and there was no way Mertesacker was going to win that tackle.
But the lack of contact, the exaggerated rolls afterwards combine to bring the decision into question. When video technology is available, will the same decision be given. Costa might argue he dived to avoid a potential injury, a stance contradicted by the theatrics.
It changed the course of the game and Chelsea quickly took advantage. Crucially no-one in the Arsenal defence took control and the only goal came as Arsenal didn’t close down a cross on the left and three defenders completely lost track of Costa, who had the simplest of chances.
The red card meant a player had to be sacrificed. It was Olivier Giroud’s turn and his disagreement with the choice was all too evident. Expect some back page stories about dissension in the ranks to appear soon.
If the objective was to cause concern in Chelsea’s back four with Walcott’s pace, it didn’t work. He was fairly anonymous and at a time when there is competition for places, didn’t put in the sparkling performance we needed.
As with Robert Pires in Paris, surely Mesut Özil was the player to sacrifice? Artist or artisan? We needed the latter, I think. Arsène, however, pointed to the injury his compatriot was carrying as the deciding factor although it begs the question why Giroud started if he was not fit enough to last ninety minutes.
Walcott created space in the middle by drifting to the left. Unfortunately, the clear openings fell to Mathieu Flamini. Whilst I will say his finishing was awful, why was he the player attacking the box? Why was he sniffing out chances when surely his primary role is defensive midfield. That was the discipline we lacked yesterday and have done for a while. Elneny’s debut against Burnley will be watched with even more interest, that’s for certain.
Even so Mathieu, how the hell can a man who volleyed in from twenty-odd yards at White Hart Lane and think twelve yards out needs a foot not a head is beyond me. Even Mesut must have looked at him and asked, “WTF?”
It was a big match for Arsenal, a chance to make a genuine claim toward the title. We now have to wait until next week to see if the opposite holds true, that this was a damaging defeat. Next weekend is an opportunity to forget yesterday’s travails but the players must view the match in isolation and believe that they only lost because we were reduced to ten men.
Yes, there are other areas to work on, particularly in midfield discipline but it’s vital this is, as Cech and Flamini both said in their post-match interviews, taken in a positive light.
Some argue that we would have won were it 11-a-side all the way through. I don’t think so; Cesc returned the love with a match-winning performance. Even before the red card, Chelsea were cutting through the midfield with ease and there was precious little indication that that was to change any time soon.
It’s a hugely frustrating result. Not one that ends the title challenge, not even one which tells us anything good or bad about the players but it has the potential to be a watershed moment in the season. We’re three points off the top and next week sees two Premier League fixtures at home to Southampton and then down to Bournemouth. Six points out of those and yesterday will be forgotten. Anything less is unthinkable.