The yellow cards dished out to Gabriel and Costa for their arguing were fair enough. The Sao Paulo man would have been better advised to stay out of the squabble between his Spain-adopted countryman, and defensive partner Koscielny. To be fair to him, when he approached he seemed only there to separate the two and defend the Frenchman, but Costa decided to take advantage of the situation. The first yellow to Cazorla was also fair, a so-called professional foul – he knew what he was doing. The second was a bit iffy. He was going for the ball but by the time he got to Fabregas the ball had already left with no time to get out of the tackle. I’ve seen players given the benefit of the doubt for those, but a foul nonetheless under the letter of the law.
If Mike Dean had better control of the game, we should have seen a few things happen differently. Firstly, Diego Costa gets an early shower on the basis of what he did to Koscielny alone. Pushing someone’s face (he knows where your face is even when you’re behind him, he’s perfected the ‘skill’) then continuing to hit them in the face, then bumping them off to the ground with your chest – probably as good as a Zidane head-butt – surely deserves a straight red card for the violence alone? If that happens, we don’t even get to see the secondary skirmish with Gabriel happening.
Costa should also have been booked for at least two other incidents: diving in order to get a foul off Coquelin then flashing an imaginary card at the ref; and kicking out at Chamberlain, who seemingly held himself back from reacting. Another thing some missed is that Gabriel got a straight red for his supposed kick on Costa! It hardly deserved a yellow, especially in the context of actions that cards were being dished out for on the day. There were a few other officiating decisions that looked wrong, but suffice to say Mike Dean’s refereeing was simply abject.
Beyond the shambles that was Dean’s officiating on the day, comments by some pundits and journalists alike have been bemusing. Disturbingly, Diego Costa has been painted in a positive light, and his cheating condoned and even supported: he is what football needs (umm, no); he’s a genius; unsettles opposition in a clever way; exactly the kind of player Arsenal needs (please, NO). Jose Mourinho even called him man of the match. Apparently he’s the reason that football fans come to stadiums and the Premier League gets multi-billion pound TV deals. I’m sorry, just because Chelsea fans and their manager might enjoy this kind of thuggish behaviour doesn’t mean this is what makes the rest of us pay high Premier League ticket prices to go to football stadia, or pay satellite TV subscriptions and stay up late/wake up early to watch from across the globe. We don’t pay money to watch a team play with 9 players against 12, especially due to snides and incompetent referees.
I don’t understand how Diego Costa is getting this amount of praise. This is the same guy who almost poked an opponent’s eyes out on Saturday (see photos of his curved fingers on Koscielny’s face), and only last season was stamping on Liverpool players. Have these pundits never watched him before this match or during his time at Atletico Madrid, and do people like Gary Neville actually condone and support this behaviour? He’s not a player with ‘fight’ like a Keown or Adams were – that’s more what I think Gabriel is. Rather Costa is a coward who is, as the Guardian’s Barney Ronay writes, “the master of pushing the rules when in full sight and nipping beyond them when the back is turned.” He wouldn’t dare take a player on if challenged proper. Youtube some videos of Costa and you’ll see it’s full of play-acting, sneaky punching and pinching and constant provocation. The one time someone squares up to him like Jordan Henderson did last season, he retreats like a puppy.
It might work to get under the skin of his opponents, but there is no ‘art’ or genius to it – it’s not something of beauty. It’s just plain cheating, childish behaviour, and it’s disgusting to watch. It’s always nice to see when someone gives it back to him in a way he cannot handle.
There’s been talk of how Diego Costa is exactly the kind of player Arsenal is missing. I think people with this opinion are mixing issues. Costa is no ‘leader’ who will proverbially die with his boots on. Arsenal doesn’t need players who operate on principles of dishonesty and lack of sportsmanship, it’s the very opposite of the spirit under which Arsène Wenger and the club try to approach football. The irony here is that the same people have also come out to criticise Gabriel for being naïve, while he was actually showing some fight, something Arsenal players have been said to lack in recent times. The hardmen of the 90’s would have dealt with Costa much like Gabriel did, perhaps just with a bit more awareness of what is at play, and may have channelled their rage a bit better.
Articles are circling about how Costa outsmarted Arsenal and continues Chelsea’s and Mourinho’s trend of getting the better of Wenger’s Arsenal psychologically. How different the commentary would have been had Arsenal won the match, even at 11 v 11. One suspects the papers would have been saying how Arsenal contained Chelsea and frustrated Diego Costa, and how the man who now wears Keown’s old shirt number is very much a worthy successor. If Costa had been rightfully sent off on top of a Chelsea loss, there’d be talk of him being a liability, especially now at a time when he hasn’t been effective in front of goal. That’s perhaps an issue that the dramatics of Saturday have masked: much like Chelsea so far, Costa has been poor this season compared to last.
It’s become common for every Arsenal loss to be blamed on Arsène Wenger. People find reasons to point at the manager every time we have a bad result. After Saturday, one would think we have enough common sense to not use that match as a #WengerOut moment. Yet even esteemed scribes like Henry Winter found scope to somehow apportion blame to Wenger and the board. Not once did he mention Mike Dean’s incompetence and inability to make the right decisions in his 3 post-match tweets. Regardless of how valid his points may have been, surely poor officiating was the more obvious and pertinent talking point on Saturday?
The FA charge on Costa, and subsequent 3 match ban, has brought little consolation, not only because this kind of retrospective action does nothing to alter the result of the match, but also because it has come with weird charges to both teams for “failing to control their players” – a charge many don’t understand, but it’s assumed to refer to players crowding the referee – and a warning to Santi Cazorla “for his behaviour following his sending-off in the game.” If indeed controlling players refers to crowding the referee, I’d have expected clubs to receive this charge almost on a weekly basis, that’s how often it happens. Cazorla’s warning is also a little odd, but at least it wasn’t a full charge. The Football Association has suspiciously lacked much transparency when it comes to officiating issues. Refereeing issues have been an ongoing problem for a while, yet the FA seems more interested in protecting referees’ “integrity” (even though they seem to lack it themselves on the football pitch at times) rather than addressing the quality of officiating. I am however pleased to see that sense has prevailed: Gabriel’s red card has been fully rescinded and Costa has been banned.
This win for Chelsea may look glossy, but if you have a closer look at how they played, you’ll see that the scoreline flatters them a little. They won mainly because they unduly had an extra man for most of the match, scored one goal via a set-piece originating from a questionable foul, and the other goal from a lucky deflection as they struggled to penetrate a team playing with 9 men and not known to be particularly good bus-parkers. I understand that big games like this one are often won and lost on fine margins, small details, and once again Chelsea had things go their way without necessarily playing well. Even before Gabriel’s sending off, they didn’t provide much of a threat as the game looked evenly balanced and destined for a drab draw. I don’t believe this was the turning point in their season that even I feared a win for them would be, even if they expectedly win in their League Cup match against Walsall. I’m hoping their poor form continues and we somehow improve our own performances. If that’s all the consolation we’ll get from Saturday, I’ll take that.
Now there’s the little matter of the League Cup match against our old foes. It’s the ideal time to get back to winning ways, let’s hope the lads do the job.