Well, that’s better. Jose Mourinho’s summary of his emotional state when he explained that he wasn’t ‘in hell’ because of bad results, and likewise wasn’t ‘in heaven’ when he wins a game, I thought showed an appropriate level of perspective and calmness in a very murky situation. Of course, one win, regardless of the opposition could never be enough to turn around such a shocking early run of form. There is however, something very welcoming in its familiarity, as well as something very promising in its simplicity, about collecting another Premier League win over Arsene Wenger’s team. When everything else in football seems back to front and upside down, it’s always nice to have the softness and indiscipline of the Gunners to fall back on.
The team sheets when they were released immediately through up three questions over Mourinho’s judgment with regards to selection. All three were scrutinised heavily on social media beforehand, as well as by television pundits; at the time the Portuguese’ explanations were interesting and revealing, if not entirely convincing, however.
Branislav Ivanovic was selected once again at right back, with Baba Rahman apparently not yet sufficiently adapted to English football, despite all of his talent. John Terry was once again left out of the XI; the manger cited ‘tactical reasons’, most likely implying he preferred the faster pair of Cahill and Zouma so as to push higher up and deal with Theo Walcott on the break. Finally the selection of Cesc Fabregas in the midfield position where he has been overrun on every occasion so far was most likely made, simply so as to bring Pedro back into the side.
The extent to which all three of these decisions paid off was a wonderful affirmation of the manager’s stated belief he was/is the man to deal with this situation and to continue leading the club to victories in important matches such as these. Young Kurt Zouma was exceptional, his first Premier League goal was a huge moment for his career but even more impressive were his perfect tackles on Walcott and Sanchez to prevent dangerous counter attacks; his was definitely the kind of performance which makes the apparent dwindling of John Terry’s career much much easier to endure. Meanwhile both Cesc and Ivanovic also enjoyed probably their best games of the season. Ivanovic (wearing the armband) still struggled at times but generally looked solid against a dangerous left wing attack, while Cesc played arguably his best game of 2015, pulling the strings as he was 12 months ago and providing his second beautiful assist for the winning goal, in his second consecutive match.
Without getting carried away, it’s easy to imagine this performance as a potential turnaround, for at least two reasons. It was firstly, such a treat for the first time in seemingly ages, to see both Cesc and Oscar performing well – the final 20 minutes of the first half was as fluid and as fast and skilful a period of play as we’ve managed to construct for months and the respective fitness and form of our Spanish and Brazilian maestros is clearly fundamental to us producing football of that quality. For the most part however, many of our players still looked restricted /frustrated. And so it was equally welcoming to see us scrape a difficult and hard fought for victory with two trademark Mourinho goals – from a set piece header, and short fast counter-attack.
Whilst all of the above is nice to think about however, it isn’t what the newspapers have predictably chosen to fill their back pages with this morning. Rather, the headlines right now are centring around one person, the man whose ‘impetuousness’ at the end of the first half ruined an enjoyable contest and turned it into something rather more advantageous for his side.
As much we may all love him, it’s in times like these where we’re left with little choice but to admit, the man is an absolute bastard and it is shame sometimes for such a talented player to resort to underhanded methods. There’s also very little doubt that he was lucky to have avoided serious punishment yesterday. However, I think there are three things about Diego Costa which we should all bear in mind…
1.It’s almost three years now since the Spaniard was last sent off. Luck may have played some part but it’s impossible to ignore what this stat suggests – specifically that he is excellent at picking his moments and staying (in his aggression) on the right side of the line. I think the accusation often aimed at Costa that he is a ‘hothead’ or ‘over emotional’ is unfair. I think he actually very rarely loses his temper, almost always knows what he’s doing, and knows how and what to do to aggravate his opponents in order to get away with it. Granted this isn’t a level of gamesmanship which everyone will appreciate, but for those of us who don’t suffer so much with pretentiousness, it’s good to be able to appreciate an aggressive style of play which works, which is entertaining and is (usually – I stress, usually) within the rules.
2. It’s also worth remembering, nobody forces people to react to Costa’s behaviour. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans can lament his lack of sporting scruples, or Mike Dean’s ‘weakness’ (surely that warrants a punishment?) all they like. But the truth of the matter is that for the second time in two matches, it has been the ill-discipline of their own players which has cost them the match. There’s nothing snide about the way Costa plays the game. He’s always been transparent in his enjoyment of confrontation. If you let it get to you then you’ve only got yourself to blame.
3. Finally, and most importantly, in times like these when a team is out of form, their league position is dreadful and morale is low, it’s easy for strikers to shirk during matches and allow the rest of the team to bear the blame for the bad service they’re providing. Before yesterday’s game, Costa said he was up for a fight. He had a fight. He took risks, playing his natural game and it worked. Though still miles from his best form, Costa led from the front yesterday the way his team needed him to. And at a time when the way is clear for new leaders to emerge, the Spaniard’s relentless passion and competitive drive is exactly what Chelsea fans should be delighted to see. If this league season is to be salvaged, he will absolutely crucial.