The dark arts won on Saturday as the powers of master Mourinho and disciple Costa guided Chelsea to a 2-0 victory over Arsenal in the Premier League. Paulista had no excuse for his red card in the 44th minute but any football fan can legitimately wonder how the referee did not send off Costa too.
Photo credit: BT Sport
Costa initially tried to wind up Koscielny by slapping him twice in the face and knocking him to the ground with a chest bump. Although Koscielny kept his cool, Paulista still felt the need to intervene and act as a buffer. Costa tested Paulista with a shove to the chest. When Paulista retaliated by doing the same thing, Costa knew he had found a new prey. The referee booked both players for this show of stupidity.
At that stage, Paulista should have known he was in serious trouble. Yet, he kept talking with Costa and even followed him. As the Brazilian centerback was walking backward, Costa abruptly stopped and vehemently complained to the referee about Paulista’s behavior. I needed TV replays to see Paulista flick his boot against Costa’s shin. After talking with his linesmen, Dean decided to give Paulista a straight red card.
That’s where I think the referee did a poor job. Costa deliberately hit Koscielny three times and could have been ejected for any of these offences. By contrast, there was contact between Paulista and Costa only because the Chelsea striker suddenly hit the brakes. To me, it looked pretty much like a setup. How can you send off a player when an innocuous flick is not even deliberate? If Dean watches the TV replays, he will realize that he rewarded the aggressor and punished the victim.
Lessons from Croatia
Costa was not done yet. He also shoved Oxlade-Chamberlain and kicked him off the ball in the 81st. Of course, neither Dean nor the linesmen saw anything. Mourinho probably feared that Costa might get caught and replaced him with Remy the next minute. If the FA bosses don’t retroactively punish Costa, they will send a clear signal to the managers and players: sneaky aggressions are accepted as long as they are not seen by the referee and his assistants. Is that really the kind of image promoted by the FA?
The Gunners suffered a second straight defeat in all competitions despite six changes made to the side that lost 2-1 to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Wednesday with Cech, Bellerin, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey and Walcott replacing Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud in the starting lineup.
Here are some of the lessons from the loss in Croatia: 1. Arteta showed his age. The Spaniard doesn’t have Coquelin’s legs to stop counterattacks. 2. The Ox is still repeating the same mistakes although he’s no longer a rookie. He failed to track Pivaric on the opening goal. 3. Giroud performs poorly when he’s under pressure. He was denied twice in the opening minutes and let his frustration get the better of him by receiving one yellow card for dissent and a second one before halftime for a high tackle. 4. Our best players, Cazorla, Ozil and Sanchez, were not at the races in the first half. Where’s the leadership in the team when things are not going our way? 5. Gibbs and Debuchy showed why they are second choices. Gibbs failed to head the ball away on the second goal from a corner and Debuchy lacked Bellerin’s energy up and down the right flank.
Zouma’s free header
I don’t have any hope for Arsenal in the Champions League but there’s enough quality in the squad to qualify for the knockout stage. It would be a real failure if we can’t finish ahead of Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos in our group. Wednesday’s loss also means the sixth match will probably not be a dead rubber. Any chance of rotating in December is therefore weak.
On Saturday, Chelsea’s season was on the line as the Blues had suffered their worst start to the season since 1986. Mourinho was obviously worried about his team’s porous defense and played Zouma at centerback to contain Walcott’s pace. The Portuguese manager’s plan was pretty simple: force turnovers to hit Arsenal on the fast break. Bellerin and Sanchez cheaply lost possession quite a few times in the first half. But the Gunners showed enough tactical discipline to quickly deny space and limit Chelsea to speculative long-range shots.
The first scoring chance of the match came in the 32nd minute. Monreal failed to head away Fabregas’ ball over the top for Pedro, whose awkward first touch allowed Cech to claim the ball. A counterattack gave Pedro another sight of goal in the 43rd but Cech palmed away his strike from the edge of the box.
Down to 10 men on the stroke of halftime, Arsenal conceded the opening goal in the 53rd. Koscielny got some stick for playing Zouma onside. But in my eyes, the real culprit is the Gunner who allowed Zouma to have a free header on that free kick. Koscielny was marking Costa and did not see Zouma’s run behind him. So either Sanchez or Monreal failed to mark the Chelsea defender.
Coquelin’s knee injury
Despite their numerical superiority, the Blues created very little. It took a second yellow card for Cazorla in the 79th to give them more space. Cazorla was first booked for a cynical foul on Pedro in the 31st before a late challenge on Fabregas near the Chelsea area led to his ejection.
Last season, Cazorla changed his game to play as a deep-lying playmaker. On Saturday, the Spaniard won 3 of 5 tackles according to the club’s website. Only Matic and Azpilicueta won more tackles in that game. However, Cazorla is no natural tackler and heavily depends on Coquelin to do the dirty work when the Gunners get hit on the fast break or don’t dominate ball possession. Coquelin picked up a knee injury and was replaced at halftime by Chambers, forcing Ramsey to share the ballwinning duties with Cazorla. We only have Arteta and Flamini as credible alternatives at holding midfielder if Coquelin is sidelined for weeks.
Chelsea scored a second goal in stoppage time. Chambers diverted Ramires’ cross into the path of Pedro, who fed Remy for a shot that was blocked. The rebound fell to Hazard, whose 17-yard effort took a deflection off Chambers to beat Cech. The Gunners were outnumbered on that play but could have done a better job defensively.
A slow positional readjustment
When Ramires makes the cross, we have Chambers, Bellerin and the Ox dealing with Pedro, Fabregas, Remy and Hazard in front of goal. Ramsey and Monreal are on the periphery and can’t intervene. There’s a bit of time between the cross and Hazard’s strike, but the Gunners are too slow in their positional readjustment. Maybe a consequence of fatigue. Ramsey is next to Pedro when Ramires runs down the flank but then stands five yards away from the Spaniard when Chambers diverts the cross. Another issue is Monreal’s decision-making. Koscielny covers Monreal when Ramires makes a run in behind the Spaniard. That means Koscielny and Monreal should be swapping position on that play. But Monreal tries to double team Ramires and leaves the heart of our defense exposed. If Ramsey had kept tracking Pedro, Remy wouldn’t have had the first shot. And if Monreal had taken over Koscielny’s position, Bellerin wouldn’t have been late for the block on Hazard.
The Blues proved clinical by converting two clear-cut chances out of three while Begovic only had one save to make, stopping an angled shot from Walcott in the 29th. Our best chance came in the fourth minute when Bellerin found Walcott on the right flank. The England winger dribbled past Begovic but let the ball roll out of bounds with a heavy touch.
Walcott is still a work in progress at centerforward, so our expectations should be low against the big teams. His poor hold-up play meant Arsenal could not break Chelsea’s pressing game with long balls. However, Walcott could easily improve one aspect of his game. He was flagged offside three times on Saturday. Walcott has so much pace that he should never get caught offside. Instead of trying to be on the same line as the last defender, he should have more security. I’m sure he would still beat his marker if he were to start his run a yard behind.
Ozil and Sanchez underperformed on Saturday and were replaced by the Ox and Giroud in the 75th. Both had a low percentage of duels won with 35 percent for Sanchez and 43 for Ozil compared to 41 for Ramsey, 59 for Cazorla and 71 for Coquelin. Ozil was average, setting up Walcott in the 29th and feeding Ramsey in the 43rd for a chance the Wales midfielder did not even take, before fading in the second half. Sanchez was mediocre, too often running into traffic and missing a good opportunity in the 60th when he miskicked wide from six yards after Zouma redirected a long ball from Ramsey into his path.
Our squad is now stretched with long-term injuries to Wilshere, Welbeck, Rosicky and possibly Coquelin, and match bans handed to Paulista and Cazorla. We must find options within the squad since the manager did not hire any outfield player this summer. I think the League Cup game against Tottenham on Wednesday is a great opportunity to audition some youngsters who could help out the first team.
Our scoring form is too poor with just five goals in six league games. Sanchez was our savior last season, but so far he hasn’t found the net yet. I can’t help but wonder whether Wenger made a mistake by rushing his return. It’s hard to see where the goals will come from this season, especially with Giroud and Ramsey struggling for confidence and consistency. Walcott would be the obvious answer but he is learning a new position and has scored more than 10 goals in a Premier League season only once.