LONDON — Chelsea beat Arsenal 2-0 on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, and although that seems like a fairly routine scoreline, the game itself produced pandemonium throughout.
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An intense battle in the sun in West London played out between the two capital clubs, as Gabriel’s red card, Kurt Zouma‘s header and Eden Hazard‘s late effort saw the reigning Premier League champs come out on top.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Here’s what we learned from the Bridge in a tight battle between two title contenders.
CLEVER COSTA RETURNS
Right on the stroke of half time a flash-point arrived as Chelsea’s combative forward Diego Costa first bumped chests with Laurent Koscielny, which saw the latter go down easily and then Gabriel got involved as both he and Costa were booked. As that duo walked to the halfway line to restart play, Gabriel kicked out at Costa right under the nose of Michael Dean and the referee had no option but to show him a straight red-card for violent conduct. Costa was guilty of flailing his arms around and catching both Koscielny and Gabriel in the face which, if spotted by Dean and his officiating crew, was surely worth a red card. However, they didn’t see it. Costa is an old hand at this and is a master of the dark arts. Gabriel’s decision to kick out at Costa right under the nose of Dean was flabbergasting and naive. He played into Costa’s hands perfeclty. It’s exactly what he wanted and gave Chelsea the man advantage they took full advantage of.
[ RECAP – Chelsea down nine-man Arsenal ]
During the second half Costa was booed every single time he touched the ball and Arsenal’s fans made their displeasure towards the Spanish international well known. After losing the ball in front of the 4,000 Arsenal fans behind the goal Chelsea were attacking, he stood tall and puffed out his chest in an Eric Cantona-esque pose.
His role of the pantomime villain was complete when he was taken off in the final 10 minutes and Mourinho gave him the thumbs up and warmly embraced his striker who he later named as his “Man of the Match.” Arsene Wenger lambasted Costa and called his antics “disgusting” but the Spanish striker proved that he is an elusive master of the dark arts, and his actions, although risky and unsavory, were crucial in grabbing Chelsea a vital win. He’s a player you’d love to have on your team but is a nightmare to play against and despite only scoring once so far in the PL this season, Saturday’s display was Costa’s biggest contribution for Chelsea in quite some time.
ZOUMA READY TO REPLACE TERRY
In the 38th minute, Theo Walcott raced clear of Chelsea’s midfield and towards their last line of defense. In his way stood the towering presence of 20-year-old center back, Kurt Zouma. The French international slipped. Time stood still and the home fans at Stamford Bridge let out a gasp. But Zouma recovered, got up from a sprawling position on the floor and somehow caught up with Walcott to make an inch-perfect sliding tackling which not only won the ball but set Chelsea on the attack. As Mourinho warmly applauded him from the edge of his technical area, the home fans chanted “Zoummaaaaa” in a booming, one-syllable chant. They were screaming it even louder in the 53rd minute as Zouma rose highest at the back post to head home Fabregas’ free kick for his first PL goal for Chelsea. The Frenchman, just like the man he replaced for this match, John Terry, proved he had a penchant for popping up and scoring big goals in the big games.
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Moments like those prove that Zouma, brought as an 18-year-old for $18 million from Saint Etienne in 2014, is ready to replace 34-year-old Terry. The TV cameras panned straight to the long-time Chelsea captain as Zouma wheeled away to celebrate and JT applauded the young center back. Zouma’s emergence could spell the end for Terry’s illustrious career.
GUNNERS JADED, NAIVE
Once again at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal’s players let their temper get the better of them. Three-straight defeats away to Chelsea since Mourinho returned to the PL (with zero goals scored and 10 conceded) mean that Wenger has now failed to beat “The Special One” in 14 competitive matches. We already talked about Gabriel’s naivety in getting sent off, but with 10 minutes to go Santi Cazorla crunched into a needless tackle on Fabregas to reduced the Gunners to nine-men. Arsenal had lost their cool, once again, and Wenger’s men have now picked up 10 points from a possible 18 in a lackluster start to the season.
The Frenchman will be concerned with firing a blank and in truth, the Gunners never got going as they looked jaded from their midweek defeat in Zagreb which saw Olivier Giroud sent off before half time. That extra effort they exerted on Wednesday impacted them against Chelsea and they hardly threatened Asmir Begovic in goal. Worrying signs for Arsenal as despite finally agreeing to shake Mourinho’s hand before the game, Wenger’s hoodoo against the Portuguese coach continues.