Diego Costa's Unsavoury Antics Revealed Both The Modern Chelsea And The Modern Arsenal

When it comes to the modern Chelsea and the modern Arsenal, it seems that there are now two certainties.

The first is that Diego Costa will try and cheat in the most unsavoury manner possible. The second is that Jose Mourinho’s team will ultimately get the better of Arsene Wenger’s.

The two are connected, revealing as they do deeper realities about both teams.

In that regard, Costa is often described as an on-pitch personification of Mourinho’s ultra-pragmatic approach, and that is true. It’s also true, however, that he is an extreme - and unfortunate - extension of the game itself.

The reality is that the vast majority of winners go pretty close to outright cheating to try and win, even if Costa takes it to unpalatable extremes.

‘Fair play’ is a myth sold by those who don’t win. There are endless stories from the game that indicate this, and even someone as genuinely nice off the pitch as Ledley King spoke about how “any player that plays in the league is aware that these things happen”. Even the great purists at Barcelona couldn’t do what they do without one of the great aggravators in Sergio Busquets. One former English title-winning striker once laughed to this column - albeit only in hindsight - that another title-winning defender would always make sure to dig a conveniently disguised knee into an opponent’s spine any time they were jumping for a header. This kind of thing is routine.

Arsenal themselves used to routinely get players sent off for similarly pushing the boundaries, and saw an average of 7.25 red cards a season between 1996 and 2004, when players like Martin Keown and Patrick Vieira used to relish physical battle and a whole lot more.

Some of what Costa does, of course, barely relates to physical battle. He’s just trying to do anything to put the opposition off.

None of this is to condone what Costa does, but it is to recognise reality. This will remain part of the game at the elite level, even if the Spaniard is a specifically exaggerated case. While referees continue to go without technological aid, it will be impossible for them to catch everything, and that will mean the space will always exist for players to push those boundaries. If the space exists, pushing the boundaries is precisely what they’ll do.

Martin Keown red card : News Photo

In this regard, neither education nor public embarrassment will work. The rewards are too great, the risks too low. Does Costa really care about all the criticism? Did so many debates about the “thuggishness” of Wenger’s 1996-2004 teams actually lead to an improvement in their disciplinary record? Not really. They won the 2001-02 double despite - and perhaps partially because of - an approach that also brought 12 red cards. Incidents like Costa’s are generally forgotten if you’re holding a major trophy.

That may be lamentable but, again, it is the current reality. The only way it can change is with rugby-union style changes to officiating.

Until then, teams either have to face up to that reality and adapt to it, or accept the consequences.

There is a strong argument it is just one of a number of realities that Wenger an Arsenal are refusing to confront.

Even though Costa should have been sent off for his deplorable behaviour, Arsenal still should have reacted to the fact he wasn’t dismissed in a much better manner. Wenger made what is actually a startling admission when he said the Spaniard “took advantage of the naivety of my team today”.

Arsenal have shown a continued naivety or undue faith in so much else with this fixture, and it was the same case with Wenger’s last series of games with his other great rival Alex Ferguson.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb v Arsenal FC - UEFA Champions League : News Photo

The details change, but the result is usually the same: Arsenal generally lose the majority of these matches.

The most frustrating aspect this time is that, despite a largely second-string Arsenal’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, so much seemed up for Wenger to finally beat Mourinho in a competitive game. Chelsea were in crisis, with a multitude of problems as well as a manager who suddenly didn’t look so sure of himself. Arsenal were on a good winning run and should have had the extra belief from beating Chelsea in the Community Shield.

This should have been the next step from that, with Wenger finally defeating the Portuguese in a competitive game.

It wasn’t. Instead, Arsenal were again atrociously flat for pretty much all of the game before Costa’s antics, and Chelsea easily funnelled their attacks away from dangerous areas.

Wenger’s side were again so predictable, in so many ways.

It is the great oddity of a genuine great’s career. The last decade has involved an abnormal amount of very defined patterns, that have persisted despite the change in the club's finances. Wenger never finishes above third in the league, and almost always goes out of the Champions League before the quarter-final. Part of that is down to the fact he could barely beat Ferguson by the end, and now can’t beat Mourinho. Those games have revealed reasons why so many seasons end up the same. 

That is also why, although Costa deserves a lot of criticism, it’s difficult to entirely pin yet another Arsenal defeat on him. Even that still brought out too many of the same issues in the team.


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