Eye On EPL

Gunners pay price for going soft in face of Costa's bullying

Chelsea, and in particular a certain Diego Costa, bullied Arsenal into a 2-0 defeat on Saturday night at the Stamford Bridge, and just one thought came to my mind after the match.

Would the likes of Martin Keown and Tony Adams have allowed someone like Costa to get under their skins? No chance.

Keown and Adams would have stood tall and sent Costa scampering back to where he came from.

The duo took no prisoners when it came to on-field defensive battles. Feisty strikers such as Craig Bellamy, Duncan Ferguson, Mark Hughes and Les Ferdinand tried to ruffle the English pair's feathers but, ultimately, Keown and Adams would not fold.

That was Arsenal in the 1990s when toughness was their principle - hard men such as Lee Dixon, Adams, Keown, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn formed a formidable, robust unit that was the basis for the early success of Arsene Wenger's managerial reign.

There are plenty of small battles that go on during a game but it is these small battles that ultimately win you the game. If a striker manages to unsettle the defender and make him lose focus, half the battle is won.

Almost two decades on, Wenger's team just cannot handle a scrap. Time and again, the Gunners get bullied off the pitch and last Saturday was yet another example of Arsenal's lack of fight when it most matters.

First of all, Costa's antics are not new. At Atletico Madrid, he was already a tyrant and in every other match, he would be involved in a scrap with a defender.

It has been 15 months since Costa arrived in the English Premier League (EPL) and yet defenders are still falling prey to his antics.

You can see it from his face. There is nothing pretty about it.

He relishes physical contact and thrives on confrontation and that is what makes him such a tough player to handle.

As a fellow forward who, like Costa, loved the physical aspects of the game, I can say that what Costa really wants to achieve is to unsettle his markers.

Defenders and strikers don't give each other high-fives and exchange pleasantries on the pitch. The relationship is downright ugly.

Fans don't often see it but all kinds of things go on during a duel between the forward and defender. There are plenty of small battles that go on during a game but it is these small battles that ultimately win you the game.

If a striker manages to unsettle the defender and make him lose focus, half the battle is won.

Costa is a master of it and as Gabriel Paulista proved,the latter is an apprentice by taking the bait. The Spaniard wanted Gabriel to cast defending aside and take him on in an individual battle. There was always going to be one winner and, true enough, the naive Arsenal centre-back was sent off.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian's defensive partner, Laurent Koscielny, was swiped at in his face and bumped to the floor, but there was no fierce retort of any kind.

It was plain submission.

Costa may still get punished but he will not stop his antics any time soon. Besides, statistics prove that Costa is not really doing much wrong.

The Spanish centre-forward hasn't been sent off since 2012 and with 10 yellow cards and no reds in 44 league games, you cannot exactly describe Costa as being ill-disciplined.

In fact, he did not commit a single foul at all in Saturday's win.

He is an old-fashioned forward who will make sure he makes his presence felt as he pushes the rules to the limit.

Now, the bigger picture is that the Blues are back to winning ways.

Still, I am not convinced. Chelsea still look a long way away from being able to retain their title.

It was important that they got this win but they will need to be consistent now.

As for the Gunners, it is the same old story. They are too soft a team to be considered title challengers and, once again, it is a fight to finish in the top four at best for Wenger's side.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline 'Gunners pay price for going soft in face of Costa's bullying'. Print Edition | Subscribe