“That’s the thing about Arsenal, they always try to walk it in.” Amazingly, even though this quote from an episode of The IT Crowd is from 2008, it still seemed to apply as much to Arsenal last season as it ever had.
A by-now familiar tale of a title challenge petering out largely thanks to disappointing performances in big games unfolded yet again. The culprit has as much been a lack of physical toughness as well as a stubbornness to only want to play exceedingly attractive football at all times.
Two of their seven league defeats came against old foes Chelsea, who dispatched of them both home and away without conceding a goal. This was especially infuriating for the Arsenal faithful given that Chelsea were in the midst of a season mired with constant talk of mutiny and dressing room moles punctuated by José Mourinho’s spectacular December exit.
Yet still in spite of that, Chelsea still had it over them. On Saturday, however, Arsenal finally had it over Chelsea and a big part of that stemmed from their new centre-back partnership of Mustafi and Koscielny getting under the skin of frontman Diego Costa.
Costa, along with his predecessor Didier Drogba, have typically bullied Arsenal’s defence over the years. But this Saturday proved different. Now while Costa deserves some credit for seemingly being the only Chelsea player geared up for such a pivotal match, the fan-made video below shows that he was routinely bested all the same by the pair of Koscielny and Mustafi.
While the majority of focus post-match has rightly been on Arsenal’s more incisive style of play going forward, typified by the rapid counter-attack that led to Mesut Ozil’s goal, these less spectacular moments provided by the German and French defenders are as important to this revitalised Gunners side.
Arsenal have flattered to deceive in the past before when it comes to building upon impressive performances against fellow title contenders so it would be wise not to get too excited just on the back of this match.
Their 2-0 win away to Man City two years ago springs to mind as they produced the perfect example of a compact, disciplined away performance only to then fritter away their title hopes in the run-in with defeats to Tottenham and Swansea City.
Pundits are now acknowledging that for all of the swashbuckling offensive play on display from the Gooners on Saturday, the real noteworthy takeaway was that a very in-form Diego Costa was kept in-check. This resulted in him losing his cool towards the end which is a stark contrast to this fixture last season where Costa acted as the provoker and effectively got the inexperienced Gabriel sent off.
Arsenal may have their first really capable, impressive centre-half pairing since the Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure days. If that does prove to be the case, they might just walk it to the Premier League title this season.
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