Arsenal undone by Mike Dean and Diego Costa

It’s very difficult to make a judgment on Arsenal following the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea. While the Gunners suffered from poor officiating in midweek in Zagreb, it was obviously a poor performance and I’m sure most fans, like myself, were frustrated at the efforts of the players that evening. But I can’t bring myself to be annoyed at Arsenal for the way the team played at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
With game poised at 0-0 just before half time, Arsenal had looked relatively comfortable. Chelsea were better than they had been all season, which wasn’t hard, but the Gunners had them at arms’ length meaning Petr Cech hadn’t really been tested during the opening half. Then Diego Costa and Mike Dean contrived to ruin the match.
Costa had already dived early in the match and tried to get Francis Coquelin booked before he attempted to rip Laurent Koscielny’s face off with repeated swipes and swings at the Frenchman when Koscielny was marking Costa in the box. When the ball didn’t reach the Spaniard, he bumped Koscielny over when the Frenchman had done absolutely nothing to react to actions that should have seen the Chelsea frontman sent off.
Gabriel, taking exception to Costa’s actions, told him what he thought of the situation and had his neck scratched by Costa. Enter Mike Dean who, along with his officials, had already failed to spot the multiple offences against Koscielny and he decided that booking Gabriel and Costa was the best course of action. His management of the situation was poor as Gabriel, rising to the bait of Costa’s antics, shouldn’t have reacted at all, and shouldn’t have given the referee the option of pulling out a card, irrespective of how minimal his retaliation was. Of course, when Gabriel did make a tiny flick of his foot towards Costa, the striker acted as if Gabriel had insulted his mother, sister and home city and shot his pet.
The fact the officials could spot the flick from Gabriel and not the assaults on Koscielny is baffling, along with the fact such an action was deemed violent conduct at all. A sensible referee would try and diffuse the situation, get the captains together and prevent the situation escalating. Mike Dean, however, isn’t a sensible referee. He is an official who seems desperate to make the match about him. Having seen some complete scummery from Costa, he still decided that in the whole incident, Arsenal should end with a man less on the pitch. As an experienced referee, Dean should know what Diego Costa does, yet he still fell for his cheating.
That wasn’t the last of the controversy involving Dean and Costa as the striker dived in the second half to try and win a penalty against Hector Bellerin and then kicked out at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a worse manner than Gabriel did in the first half. These obviously happened with Costa on a yellow card, and still Dean did nothing.
With Diego Costa, Gabriel was naive for getting involved in the way he did, but I don’t mind him wanting to stand up for his centre-back partner when he’s been assaulted. When we moan about Costa, I don’t buy the argument that we’d love him in our team because of the aggression he brings. I wouldn’t want him near the football club I support because he isn’t aggressive, he’s a cowardly cheat who is an embarrassment to the game. As that is the case, working under a manager such as Mourinho is where he belongs.
If the FA have any balls, Diego Costa should get a three-match ban. The evidence is clear. They also need to make sure referees are strong enough to to deal with such cheating. On that basis, Mike Dean should also get a few weeks off for such an embarrassing performance. Those actions would send a message out that such behaviour and poor officiating won’t be accepted, because as an Arsenal fan, it feels like Diego Costa was rewarded for being a massive arse.
After what happened in the first half, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Arsenal finished with nine men. There can’t really be any complaints about Cazorla’s two yellow cards, but it wasn’t consistent with his other decisions during the game.
The game was in the balance before the red card, but from that point onwards, any positive result would have been phenomenal for Arsenal. There was frustration at conceding from a set-piece (especially when it wasn’t a foul from Aaron Ramsey that led to the award of the free-kick), and then Alexis should have equalised, growing the concerns about his form this season, but I couldn’t bring myself to be massively annoyed about those things. It always felt like Arsenal were up against it because of the officiating and Mike Dean buying Costa’s antics.
It’s two defeats in a week for Arsenal, but both have come with mitigating circumstances. I hope the team don’t read too much into the Chelsea defeat as that was farcical through the performances of aforementioned individuals. Arsene Wenger now has to pick the morale up and pick a strong team in midweek because if there’s one thing that can instantly improve the mood around the club, it’s a North London derby win at White Hart Lane.

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SMR end-of-season review 2014-2015: The Defenders

Continuing the review of the Arsenal squad’s performances in the 2014-2015, it’s the defenders. Each player will receive a rating and a one-word summary of the season.
2. Mathieu Debuchy
The Frenchman has been incredibly unlucky in his first season at the club as a couple of nasty injuries limited his involvement. The signs were promising that Debuchy was going to be a solid replacement for Bacary Sagna, but ankle and shoulder injuries now mean he faces a real fight to be the first-choice right-back following the emergence of others in his position this season. He’s strong defensively and filled in well when needed at centre-back, so he’s still got a lot to offer the club.
One-word summary: Unlucky
Rating: 6/10
3. Kieran Gibbs
Gibbs hasn’t had a bad season, but the impressive performances of Nacho Monreal have seen the Englishman drop out of the starting XI more often than expected. He remains a very solid full-back and the competition with the Spaniard should be good for his development. The controlled volley at Anderlecht was a particular highlight.
One-word summary: Challenged
Rating: 6/10
4. Per Mertesacker:
Regular readers / listeners will know that I love Per Mertesacker. He had a difficult start to the season following the World Cup and without Laurent Koscielny alongside him, the BFG looked a bit vulnerable. Mertesacker was written off by many as being past it, but he came back strong in the second half of the season as he reached the impressive levels he played at for most of the previous season. The return of Koscielny helped, but Mertesacker’s leadership stood out as Arsenal went on an excellent run of form in the league and retained the FA Cup. Although it was off his shoulder, the cup final goal was just a beautiful moment.
One-word summary: Hero
Rating: 7/10
5. Gabriel
Many expected him to displace Per Mertesacker as soon as he arrived in January, but the German’s good form has meant Gabriel has mainly been on the bench since his arrival. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a big part to play for Arsenal in the future as the signs were very encouraging in the games he played in. It sounds an obvious thing to say, but Gabriel looks like he loves defending by being quick across the ground and tenacious in the tackle. It is great to have that quality in the squad having been light in central defence, and Arsene Wenger can now tailor the centre of the defensive to deal with different styles of attackers.
One-word summary: Encouraging
Rating: 6/10
6. Laurent Koscielny:
It’s no coincidence that Arsenal’s form picked up when Laurent Koscielny’s achilles calmed down. That sort of injury does pose some concerns for the future, but given Koscielny was available for the majority of the second half of the season, it seems to be under control. The partnership with Per Mertesacker was re-established and was excellent. He also seems to have dropped his tendency to dive in and concede needless penalties every now and again.
One-word summary: Boss
Rating: 8/10
18. Nacho Monreal
Arguably Arsenal’s most-improved player this season. Like a lot of the team, Monreal went through a tough spell in the first-half of the season as he was asked to fill-in in an unfamiliar central defensive role. His efforts in there were admirable, and stood him in good stead as he was picked for most of the big matches at left-back ahead of Kieran Gibbs. While not known as much for being an attacking full-back, the composure with which he slotted the ball in at Old Trafford in the FA Cup showed the confidence he’s gained during the season.
One-word summary: Improved
Rating: 7/10
21. Calum Chambers
Mainly due to injuries to others, and a lack of cover at centre-back, we saw a lot of Calum Chambers in the first half of the season. There were times in latter appearances where his inexperience showed, but it’s easy to forget how impressive his earlier performances were, particularly when playing at centre-back. He’ll continue to develop and will be stronger for some of the games he’s struggled in.
One-word summary: Future
Rating: 6/10
39. Hector Bellerin
Bellerin went through a few chastening experiences in the first half of the season, with his Champions League debut at Borussia Dortmund and the defeat at Stoke particularly challenging ones. But he has taken his chance given to him following Debuchy’s second bad injury. His pace has been well documented, but his defensive position improved quickly as the season went on meaning he didn’t have to rely on it as much. Bellerin’s composure on the ball isn’t a surprise given his football upbringing included Barcelona and Arsenal, but he’s also got an eye for a goal with two excellent finishes against Aston Villa and Liverpool at the Emirates. It’s exciting to see how much further he can develop after a breakthrough season.
One-word summary: Rapid
Rating: 7/10

Giroud and Arsenal survive the post-Monaco hangover

Following a defeat as chastening and painful as the one suffered against Monaco last week, Arsenal were never going to be at their fluent best against Everton at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. There were always going to be nerves, some apprehension and caution from the Gunners. Fortunately, Everton didn’t take advantage as Arsenal kept concentration and secured a good 2-0 win.
The man who’ll have had the most to worry about before the game was Olivier Giroud. In a team who all fell below the expected level against Monaco, Giroud’s wasteful performance up front stuck out horribly on Wednesday. His excellent form prior to the Champions League game saved his place in the side, and while there were a few more missed chances against the Toffees, the Frenchman opened the scoring just before half time with an excellent swept finish from Mesut Ozil’s corner.
Giroud was physical, looked to get involved and didn’t shirk responsibly, when other players could have gone into their shell after such a dreadful showing in his previous game. His usual good link-up play was off against Monaco, but his clever lay-offs and physical strength contributed to the majority of chances the team created against Everton, including an excellent flick-on that allowed Ozil the space to set up the clinching goal.
That clincher was scored by Tomas Rosicky, who reinforced his use to the squad by coming on at 1-0, when the team could have got nervous and sat back too deep, but his high-energy style pressured the visitors. After Rosicky hung back on the edge of the box just before the 90th minute, Ozil found the Czech with time to fire low at goal. The shot took a deflection off Phil Jagielka to go over Tim Howard, but after the blocks and deflections went against Arsenal against Monaco, it felt like the team deserved a bit of luck.
While Arsene Wenger kept faith with Olivier Giroud, the main team change came in the back four as Gabriel made his first Premier League start ahead of Per Mertesacker. Regular SMR readers and listeners will know of my admiration for Per Mertesacker, so I must admit to being slightly disappointed to not see him play. He was horribly exposed against Monaco, but that was partly down to the whole team being a bit kamakaze in the second half. Even so, given how he’s been a pillar of the team for the last few seasons, it was a surprise to see the Mertesacker-Koscienly partnership broken up. With doubts still existing about Laurent Koscielny’s achilles, who limped off slightly again at the end of the game on Sunday, I’m certain we’ll see the BFG back in sooner rather than later; if not against QPR on Wednesday, then I think he’ll play at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, where an experienced pairing will be useful. He’s played a lot of football in the last few seasons, so the occasional rest after a poor performance should do him good.
When he does play again, Mertesacker will know he has to perform to stay in the team, as Gabriel was impressive against the Toffees. There was a mistake in the first half where he needed to be bailed out excellently by David Ospina, and there was a loose pass in the second half that could have cost a chance, but he didn’t look overawed by his first full Premier League experience, especially against a powerful forward like Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker was on the end of a stunning last ditch tackle from the Brazilian in the first half, before there was a similarly no-nonsense style challenge on Ross Barkley that endeared him to the home fans.
Gabriel was in front of David Ospina, who kept his place after an iffy showing in the Champions League. The Colombian was much improved and made some excellent saves. As mentioned, his sweeper-keeping to bail out Gabriel and deny Lukaku was first class, as was his flying save from the same player in the second half. It was the sort of confidence-boosting performance he needed, and one that helped calm the rest of the team down on a day when things could have become very edgy.
Everton looked a shadow of the team that really tested the Gunners last season, but this was the sort of match Arsenal needed to rebuild some of the confidence lost in the Champions League. It strengthened the club’s position in the top four and kept the league momentum going. Realistically, knowing the type of match it was going to be, the 2-0 win was about as good as Arsenal fans could have hoped for.