Chelsea claim a league double over Arsenal as Costa’s first-half strike sent Chelsea to a three-month high in the Premier League table.
The Blues, who reach the dizzying heights of 13th with a win, had Costa to thank for getting Mertesacker rightfully sent off in the 18th minute before wrecking havoc in the heart of Arsenal’s back-line minutes later to score the game’s precious goal.
It was not as feisty as September’s encounter when Arsenal were reduced to nine men but there was plenty of rivalry but Arsenal have still not beaten Chelsea in the league for five years and this win means Chelsea are now on the league’s longest current unbeaten run, a stark contrast to the form pre-Christmas.
It was a London derby which packed some punch from the off. Joel Campbell mis-kicked early whilst at the other end, Fabregas was given space to dictate play in a more attacking role, of course jeered with every touch.
Meanwhile Arsenal’s ex-Chelsea man was afforded a more pleasant afternoon from the visiting fans who still adore their hero after 11 years of fantastic service, even if he denied his former side taking the lead through Oscar or Willian.
Chelsea continued to press on and when a delicious through ball saw Costa run through, Mertesacker as the last man was slow and Clattenburg had to send the German off. Gabriel was the man on, ironically the man Costa had gotten sent off in the reverse fixture in September.
Could he do anything to stop Chelsea taking the lead? No. Matic’s left-wing cross was poor but worked its way to his Serbian compatriot Ivanovic, whose cross was much better and Costa raced in front of Gabriel to poke home. Cech spread himself big but could do nothing.
Costa and Azpilicueta then got in each other’s way as the striker looked to first-time volley in a cross, whilst Fabregas was allowed space to run from the half-way line into the penalty box before his shot was charged down.
Arsenal were still in the game though and Flamini, known for his fantastic league record at the Emirates, ought to have controlled a ball better from Arsenal’s left having managed to evade Zouma and Terry, but it was too high for a header and too low to get any meaningful contact. In the end the karate kick went high and it was the last action of the half.
Fabregas was cynically shoulder-barged by Koscielny in the box that should have certainly warranted a penalty but Clattenburg was lenient on this occasion.
Courtois had very little to do all day and that could explain his lack of judgement from several Arsenal set-pieces, one of which nearly proved costly around the hour mark. A feeble punch onto Azpilicueta’s back created a mad melee in and around the goal-mouth before Chelsea hacked clear. This was followed moments later by another scramble when Courtois twice failed to grab both hands on the ball from a corner.
Remy came on for Costa who continues to fail to last a whole game fully fit but last 20 minutes played into Chelsea’s hands of sitting deep, though not without scares.
Hazard came on in the final stages to inject pace and twice found Remy through on goal only for the Frenchman to fluff, and so too did the Belgian find Willian, but he did not have his shooting boots on either.
At the other end, an injury time corner sent Cech forward but the kick was weak and Chelsea emerge triumphant, with Wenger kind enough to accept Hiddink’s handshake.
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Man of the Match
DIEGO COSTA: The two game-changing moments were down to this man so you could say he won Chelsea the match, which means he has to get Man of the Match. Re-finding some of his commanding, irritating self and though he rubs nearly everyone up the wrong way, he certainly does it to Arsenal too. Excellent work to draw the challenge by Mertesacker and poacher’s instinct for the goal. 7/10
Hiddink was honest with his assessment: “Today the boys did their job very well. The red card makes it a bit easier but Arsenal can play well with a man down. It was important to keep structure in the team. I like the team playing how they did today, regardless of the gap between here and fourth place. We still have two cups at stake.”
Wenger was unsurprisingly not happy with Costa: “The referee was very quick to take the red card out. I can’t influence the decision of the referee. I thought it was harsh and we had to cope with it. Diego Costa is good at [making the most of the situation].”