You'd be forgiven for interpreting the first five matches of Chelsea's season as some sort of crisis. Results have been bad, the performances somehow worse, and there's been no end in sight to the negativity. But an alternative viewing of the Premier League year to date is that it has been a long and elaborate set up to what was perhaps the best prank of all time. Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal.
It's a predictable enough scoreline, although I don't know any Blues fans who'd have dared jinx the result ahead of time, but it's not merely the win and the clean sheet against the Gunners that made today so funny. After all, that's kind of standard practice against Arsenal these days. The three points were lovely, but it's the sheer malice with which we gained them that everyone should appreciate.
The best wins aren't ones that confirm your superiority but those that infuriate the opposition. A quick check of social media suggests that you could power half the planet with Arsenal-tinged vitriol. They're upset, perhaps rightly so, but what they've singularly failed to understand is that upsetting your opponent is a vital arrow in the competitive quiver.
An angry opponent will always make worse decisions. Not only that, they won't learn the important lessons from how event progress. Judgement is clouded; mistakes are made. That, of course, is largely Diego Costa's fault (although he's by no means Chelsea's only pet anger generator).
After this match, we're going to see a lot of hand-wringing over Costa's antics/crimes/genocides/however you want to call them. At least one manager will suggest that he hasn't learned how the game is played in England, at least one column will call for a retroactive ban after he engaged pretty much everyone in a red shirt. The narrative will suggest that Costa is out of control, and that that harms Chelsea.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Costa is an artist. He knows exactly how to provoke players, when the referee is looking and when he isn't, and takes full advantage of the fact that humans arbitrate the match and that humans play it. Winding people up is no accident, it's an extremely useful skill. Although he didn't score, this match was Costa's masterpiece, his Sistine Chapel of being a dick. His actions turned a tight game that seemed destined for a goalless draw into a comfortable Chelsea win.
Not much of note happened before Costa went full Costa. The Blues defence was remarkably stout after being utterly demolished by Steven Naismith last weekend, which meant that we weren't subject to eternal terror whenever the visitors had the ball. There wasn't much on offer at the other end of the pitch either. Eden Hazard had a ghost of a penalty shout waved away after tangling with Gabriel and Pedro went flying into the returning Petr Cech on a neat-looking long diagonal, but the action was at best vaguely unpromising.
But just before halftime, all hell broke loose. Costa bopped Arsenal centre back Laurent Koscielny in the nose and then picked a fight with Gabriel, a contretemps that should have ended after Mike Dean showed both players a yellow card. Happily, Gabriel lost his temper in the face of continued baiting from the striker, making the error of kicking out as Costa came up behind him. A
second yellow straight red followed; Arsenal were down to 10. And not very happy about it.
There wasn't time to take advantage of being up a man before the first half ended, but Chelsea were more than happy to ratchet up the pressure in the second. They were rewarded in short order, through the combination of Cesc Fabregas and Kurt Zouma. The former won a free kick on the left and then swung a peach of a delivery towards the back post. Koscielny was caught napping, leaving Cech with no chance once Zouma got his head to the ball. It was the young defender's first Premier League goal, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
From then on it was a matter of keeping the visitors at arms reach and seeing the match out. Alexis Sanchez wasted a chance after a rare mistake from Zouma, but in general the action was going the other way. There were close calls from Eden Hazard and Pedro, and Costa might have had a penalty after clashing with Hector Bellerin.
All in all, the match was looking good, and it was quite clear that it'd take a fairly colossal screw-up for Chelsea to throw away the points, and it was also clear that if one side was going to try something stupid to force things, it would be Arsenal.
Their second red card surprised absolutely nobody. Santi Cazorla, on a booking after hacking down Pedro, was asked to play in defensive midfield as the Gunners pushed mindlessly up the pitch. Naturally, he was caught out. With Fabregas looking to drive forward on the counterattack, Cazorla jumped in, and was rewarded for his initiative with a second yellow card.
With the visitors down to nine, the match was all but won. Hazard sealed the deal minutes later after Loïc Rémy's shot was blocked. Granted, his goal took a mammoth deflection off Callum Chambers, but after Hazard's struggles this season getting on the scoresheet in any way was welcome enough that nobody's going to complain.
Anyway. A superb performance, a win, a clean sheet and the mighty Arsenal are going home crying after we ruined football some more. Perfection.