I wouldn't mess with Gabriel
People who read my stuff regularly will know that I am never slow to blame Arsene Wenger or the players in defeat. More often than not, when we lose, I will go on a rant about the failings of Le Boss in whichever area I feel he's done wrong. Today is not one of those days. The defeat at Chelsea was not a result of anything that Arsene Wenger did, or didn't do. I could criticise one or two of our star players who might not have been at the races even before we lost Gabriel, but I don't think it's appropriate today. We lost, but nobody from Arsenal is to blame.
I actually thought we got off to a bright start on Saturday. Alexis was giving Ivanovic a bad time down our left, ably supported by Nacho Monreal, while Coquelin was everywhere in midfield. Theo was working hard up front and running their centre-halves around while Ramsey (who failed when the ball went to his feet from a pass) was breaking up play really well down his side. I read somewhere that Eden Hazard recovered his form of last season the other day - if they mean he was totally over rated then I agree. The fact is that in the first twenty minutes or so we were on top of the game, not really threatening too much, but certainly in control. Arsene had set the team up well and everything was going according to plan.
The first turning point, for me, came with the injury to Coquelin. When you see the slow-motion replay of him landing you see his knee hyper-extend. I dread to think how long he'll be out for with the idiots at Arsenal managing his recovery. With Coquelin subdued it allowed Chelsea to take a hold in midfield. This is where I have one of few criticisms from the other day as the other players chose to stand off Fabregas when he got the ball. With Coquelin less mobile the likes of Cazorla and Ramsey had to get closer to Fabregas to stop him picking his passes. It allowed Chelsea to get on top for the first time. Having said that they didn't really threaten any more than Arsenal had earlier in the game with the defence doing well.
The game ultimately turned for the worse on the stroke of half-time. Ozil made his only contribution to the game as he broke away on the left and played a lovely ball to Ramsey who was coming in at the far-post. Of course Ramsey couldn't resist the chance to try and be clever and lost the ball instead of just smashing it in the net. Chelsea then broke away themselves and Costa assaulted Laurent Koscielny off the ball. When the play broke up he then knocked Koscielny to the ground. This all followed his first minute dive to try and get Coquelin booked, followed up by waving an imaginary card at the referee. Just in these incidents he could (should) have been sent-off for three different offences. To ignore the first was typical Mike Dean. To miss both of the next two (there are four officials remember) shows a seriously flawed group of referees and linesmen. Gabriel then did what we've been crying out for and came to the defence of his mate. Costa, as usual, acted the hurt party in all of this and got way with a yellow card despite the obvious scarring of Gabriel's neck from Costa's fingernails. Gabriel also got booked. As the referee was in the process of booking them both, right in front him, Costa swung a punch at Gabriel. Again Dean ignored it. I think we might be up to five red card offences now (even Howard Webb picked out three during the game).
When the players moved back to the halfway line the referee followed them. It was clear that Costa was talking in Gabriel's ear. Given that I doubt Mr Dean speaks Portuguese I suspect he couldn't understand what was being said. Gabriel was probably foolish to raise his foot backwards towards Costa, but who knows what insults he was getting? The same officials who had all missed the elbows and punches from Costa managed to see the flick of Gabriel's leg and Dean couldn't wait to show him a red card. From then on we were knackered in terms of the game.
The second-half was fairly predictable as Chelsea won the match. However, we did shoot ourselves in the foot with letting in a goal from a set-piece - that was rank bad defending regardless of how many players you have on the pitch. I would like to ask Mr Dean what the free-kick was for though. Aaron Ramsey simply took the ball off Fabregas, no contact with the treacherous little snake (who was right in Dean's face calling for Gabriel to be sent-off incidentally) and was penalised. If the referee had made the right decision we wouldn't have been 1-0 down.
Dean wasn't finished though. He let Costa off again for a kick out at Oxlade-Chamberlain (more on that below) and then sent-off the dirtiest player on the pitch, Santi Cazorla, for his second foul of the game (Ivanovic made seven fouls for his yellow card). Fabregas was again instrumental in ensuring Cazorla was punished as he rolled around like his leg was in two pieces. I hope all the idiots that applauded Fabregas at our place last season remain totally ashamed of themselves. The second goal was just one of those things. Quite how it's been given to Hazard instead of a Chambers own-goal I really don't know. I must put a word in here for Calum Chambers, a player I've often criticised. I thought he was exceptional on Saturday when he came on and full credit to him for a job well done.
As I said at the top of this article, I am not criticising Arsene Wenger for this one. It was clear to me at the time, and it is clear to me now, that if the officials had done their job properly we would have not lost on Saturday. If Costa had been punished for his misdemeanours then Gabriel would not have needed to intervene. Mike Dean and his linesmen were the reason we lost on Saturday and that can't be right at any level of football. The FA must act and I thought Arsene Wenger gave an exceptional interview after the game, laying it all out - even the media have come out on Arsenal's side (maybe not Sky) over this one which says all you need to know.
This is what we are missing
I've seen people blaming Gabriel for falling in to Costa's "trap" on Saturday. Nonsense. Gabriel did what I want from our players. He saw one of his mates getting done by an opponent and flew in to show Koscielny wasn't on his own. He did what Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Lauren and Patrick Vieira would have done (and did do when required). The only tragedy was that when he was being stitched up himself the rest of the Arsenal players (bar Coquelin) were nowhere to be seen. Our Captain was doing nothing, but at 5'6" he's hardly likely to go getting involved in a dust-up. The fact is that the Arsenal players are largely too nice and too timid. They don't try to look after each other and that's one of the reasons they are not a top side.
Take a look at the photo above. Look at those yellow shirts piling in. They'd just seen Nigel Winterburn getting kicked by Irwin and McLair as he lay prone on the floor. Anders Limpar (not a giant) steamed in and laid a right-hook on McLair's jaw. Tony Adams flew in to the throng, while Thomas, Davis and Rocastle acted as one to protect their mates. This was just a year after a similar brawl at home to Norwich. That Arsenal team was not to be f***ed with in any circumstances. They fought tooth and nail for one another. They ended up as League Champions.
When the players walked off for half-time on Saturday not one Arsenal player was in the face of Diego Costa. That team of 1990, or the Invincibles, would have been all around him. The physical confrontation would have sent out the message that this team isn't going to take the kind of s**t that Costa gives out. His dive in the second-half wouldn't have happened and, if it had, he'd have got a load more from the Arsenal players.
The incident that really annoyed me in the second-half was the one involving Oxlade-Chamberlain. You can see Costa clearly kick out at him. The reaction of The Ox was to basically shrug his shoulders at Costa. He should have been going for him, getting him by the throat, making a serious issue out of it. If nothing else it would have been cute play as even Dean would have had to give Costa another yellow, thus evening numbers up a bit. At the same time, where were the other players? Why were they not all piling in on Costa? We are simply not nasty enough and not ugly enough as a squad. It just confirms the idea that we're a bit of a soft-touch. The attitude has to change and it has to become one of "us against everyone else" if we are to contend properly. I don't care that "it's not what we want to see on the football field" or whatever other nonsense the media would want to spin. When we were ugly, snarling opponents we were winners and that is all that matters. What we wouldn't give for the fighting attitude of Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Thomas, Davis, Rocastle, Lauren, Bergkamp, Petit and Vieira these days.