Costa brings Arsenal to their knees as Chelsea stun Gunners
Mertesacker sent off and Spanish striker maintains the Blues' incredible record to heap misery on Arsene Wenger
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 1.
A goal for Diego Costa and a red card for Per Mertesacker settled Sunday's London derby and prolonged Arsenal's extraordinary and miserable record against Chelsea. It's now nine Premier League clashes without a win for the Gunners, whose last victory over the Blues was a 5-3 victory in October 2011.
Since then it's been one setback after another, and even though Jose Mourinho - Arsene Wenger's nemesis - is no longer in charge at the Bridge, Guus Hiddink took up from where the Special One left off, masterminding Arsenal's downfall with a performance that was solid and structured if not spectacular.
The match turned on the dismissal of Mertesacker, the gangly German central defender shown a straight red card on 18 minutes for bringing down Costa when the Spanish striker was clean through on goal. Referee Mark Clattenburg thought about it for a few seconds and then reached for his pocket to brandish the card that left Arsenal facing 72 minutes with ten men.
What is it about playing the Blues that brings out the beast in the Gunners? This was their seventh red card against their London rivals in the Premier League - more than any other club - and the fact it was Costa involved only enraged the home fans even more.
It was the Spaniard who provoked Gabriel into an early bath when the two sides met in September and on Sunday Costa then rubbed salt into the raw Arsenal wounds by scoring the only goal of the game.
Five minutes after Mertesacker's rash challenge a low cross from Branislav Ivanovic's was buried by Costa, and he almost had a second shortly before the break when his sharp shot was well saved by Petr Cech.
Wenger had responded to Mertesacker's dismissal by taking off Oliver Giroud and replacing the centre-forward with a defender in Gabriel. That deprived the home side of their target man and they failed to create many openings for the rest of the game, allowing Chelsea to take all the points and move up to 13th in the table - their highest placing since 26 October.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are third, three points behind Leicester who have 47 points and the Gunners have now won just one of their last four league games. Not surprisingly, Arsene Wenger was in combative mood after the game, and while he accused the referee of being "very quick to take the red card out", his ire was directed principally at Costa.
Asked if he believed if Costa had milked Mertesacker's challenge, the Frenchman replied: "Yes." Then he said: "That is the game of the striker. Diego Costa is good at that... He has got two players sent off this season."
Wenger was also asked about his decision to remove Giroud from the fray, leaving Arsenal without a centre-forward. "The fact is we needed to get strength on the counter-attack and needed pace," he replied. "That is why I made the decision."
Wenger went on to praise his side's "attitude and spirit" but it was Hiddink who finished the game with a more tangible reward. "Today the boys did their job very well," he said of the win. "I like the team playing how they did today, regardless of the gap between here and fourth place. We still have two cups at stake. We were unbeaten in seven before this but it was not satisfying because a lot were draws. I hope we have made the first step to being unbeaten with pride."