For all of Arsenal’s hopes of landing the title this season, they don’t seem adept at getting one over Chelsea.
Arsene Wenger had a bright smile on his face in the pre-match address, obviously pleased at having his talisman, Mesut Ozil, back, but more importantly, because he knew he once again had the mercurial Alexis Sanchez at his disposal should the situation arise for a winner in what could be a tricky game for his team. With or without Jose Mourinho, Chelsea have remained a tough nut to crack for Wenger’s men — at least in recent memory.
That the decisive moment of the game would come just after 18 minutes on the clock, and would involve the one man who became Arsenal’s undoing the last time these two teams met in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge — when Mourinho was still in charge — was no surprise either. Diego Costa — like Wayne Rooney in the past, and like Didier Drogba — is slowly etching himself as Arsenal’s perennial foe.
This Season: Diego Costa 3-0 Arsenal pic.twitter.com/dHQs78BbN1— Troll Football (@TrollFootball) January 24, 2016
Willian’s vision in the middle of the park saw him set Costa free who, then, expertly managed to beat Arsenal’s offside trap and go down as Mertesacker came lunging forward to avoid him from having a one-on-one with Petr Cech. The big German saved the one-on-one, but got himself sent off in the process.
There is little doubt that Mertesacker’s decision to make the tackle — when he must have certainly known that even the faintest of touches will see Costa roll across the pitch — was a mistake that cost Arsenal dearly. He should have known better. With Cech still to beat in goal, there was no guarantee that Chelsea would have taken the lead.
And yet, when Chelsea did score (no points for guessing who scored!) after just four minutes of the sending off, it seemed Chelsea’s hoodoo over Arsenal would continue even in 2016.
Wenger made changes. Giroud was substituted — a decision which has been criticized in some quarters already— and Gabriel was brought on to pair Laurent Koscienly in Arsenal’s center of defense.
But what was to follow was not an altogether unpredictable affair. Arsenal huffed and puffed, played some wonderful football, but with one man short against the champions, found it difficult to create clear-cut opportunities.
At the stroke of half-time, however, Arsenal had a golden chance to get back into the game.
Ramsey spotted Flamini free in Chelsea’s penalty area and gave the Frenchman a clear chance to score, but Flamini used his feet when he should have used his head — literally.
Arsenal found themselves energized in the second half as Wenger brought pace to his team’s attack with Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, but despite some good play by both players — especially by the Chilean — Arsenal found it tough to break down Chelsea’s stubborn defense.
There was the odd scramble — Flamini again found himself with a chance — and Thibaut Courtois did not seem to have one of his best games in Chelsea’s goal; but Chelsea managed to hold Arsenal to secure a double over the Gunners in a season where the former is languishing in the second half of the table, while Arsenal apparently has title pretensions.
Wenger’s men would need to regroup in the wake of this harrowing defeat, while Guus Hiddink would view the win as a springboard for what he would hope would be a strong end to Chelsea’s fluttering season.
After the match, Arsene Wenger hailed his team’s effort, but said the red card cost his team, speaking to Sky Sports.
“We had a mountain to climb with 10 men but even then, I believe there was enough there to come away with a 1-1 draw.”
Guus Hiddink hailed his team’s performance too, saying his team took the game to Arsenal.
“Whether or not you can make fourth place the ambition must be there every game. Even when there is nothing a stake, I want to see ambition.”
Maybe Arsene Wenger is right in his assessment of the game, but all said and done, the Frenchman has once again failed to end Chelsea’s hoodoo from across town.
[Photo Shaun Botterill/Getty Images]