LONDON – Premier League champions Chelsea won only their second league game this season against nine-man Arsenal in a fiery match at Stamford Bridge.
Defender Kurt Zouma – preferred to dropped captain John Terry – headed the opening goal after 53 minutes and Chelsea secured only their second win in six Premier League games this season when Eden Hazard’s shot flew in off Calum Chambers late on.
This barely tells the story of a game that will leave Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger furious and frustrated in equal measure as he saw his players fall victim to the trademark and predictable wind-up tactics of Chelsea striker Diego Costa.
Arsenal defender Gabriel was sent off seconds before half-time for kicking out at Costa. It came at the end of a lengthy spat after the striker had shoved his hand into the face of Laurent Koscielny three times.
It handed the momentum to Chelsea and Arsenal’s misery was complete when Santi Cazorla was given a second yellow card for a foul on Cesc Fabregas.
All this mattered little to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who will regard this win as another sign that the reigning Premier League champions are moving somewhere towards their normal selves.
Mourinho sprung a major surprise by dropping Terry and starting with Zouma alongside Gary Cahill.
The Chelsea manager called Zouma the fastest defender Chelsea have after bringing him on for Terry in the defeat at Manchester City earlier this season. His greater pace was clearly to counter the speed of Theo Walcott, and the powerful youngster coped well.
The added bonus for Mourinho was Zouma’s strength in the air that allowed him to get on the end of Fabregas’s free-kick to head Chelsea in front after 53 minutes.
So what does this mean for Terry? Is it the beginning of the end for the 34-year-old?
Mourinho knows every decision he makes, particularly those involving Terry, come under great scrutiny these days. Not so long ago, leaving Terry out of a game of such importance would have been unthinkable. No longer.
No-one in their right mind would write off such an enduring and determined figure as Terry, but with the emergence of Zouma and Chelsea’s concerted attempts to land Everton’s John Stones with offers of Â£30m, it is clear the former England captain’s days as a permanent fixture in Chelsea’s line-up are over.
Costa enjoys cult status as the anti-hero of Stamford Bridge – but you will not hear many warm words for him anywhere else and certainly not from Arsenal.
This was a grim day all-round for the Gunners, not simply because they lost once more to Chelsea and received another setback to their hopes of challenging for the Premier League title, but also because they lost defender Gabriel and midfield man Cazorla to red cards.
And to add to their fury, they also left west London nursing a burning sense of injustice that Costa stayed on despite pushing the rules to the limit and beyond.
The Premier League’s angriest man started a chain of events that led to Gabriel’s sending off by shoving Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny three times in the face and then barging the defender to the ground.
Gabriel tried to help his team-mate and a lengthy dispute with Costa ended with the Arsenal defender finally being hooked by the obvious bait offered up by the striker, kicking out to receive a straight red card from referee Mike Dean.
Foolish, but surely action also to be taken against Costa for the incident with Koscielny?
Arsenal’s reduced numbers made their task almost impossible and altered the face of the game.
The antipathy between Mourinho and his Arsenal counterpart stretches back to his first spell at Stamford Bridge when he labelled Wenger “a voyeur” for his supposed interest in events at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho hardly helped relations by calling Wenger “a specialist in failure” in February 2014 after his return to Chelsea – then there was the non-handshake at the Community Shield in August when Arsenal’s boss finally got the better of “The Special One” at the 14th attempt.
So what did Saturday at a sunny Stamford Bridge bring? Mourinho was in his seat in the technical area long before kick-off and up and out of his seat well before Wenger’s entrance seconds before the start.
Mourinho ensured Wenger could not have missed his proffered hand, which was taken in the coldest manner possible as the Arsenal boss breezed past on the way to his seat.
Not the slightest trace of warmth was on show in the exchange. Indeed, the handshake was so icy it was utterly pointless.
Maybe Costa could be called in to act as peacemaker between the two? Actually maybe not.
Fabregas has assisted a goal in two of his three Premier League games against former side Arsenal.
No team in Premier League history has seen more players sent off than Arsenal (79, level with Everton).
Arsenal had two players sent off in a Premier League game for only the third time, and the first since 1999 (v Spurs).
Chelsea have kept six clean sheets in their last eight Premier League games against Arsenal, including the last five in a row.
Chelsea are unbeaten against Arsenal in their last eight Barclays Premier League encounters (W5 D3).
Who’s up next?
Arsenal face another tricky game at north London rivals Tottenham in the League Cup on Wednesday, before they are away again at Leicester on Saturday. The Blues are at Walsall in the League Cup and then are away at Newcastle next Saturday. – BBC Sport
RESULTS SAT 19 SEP 2015 – PREMIER LEAGUE
Chelsea 2 – 0 Arsenal
Aston Villa 0 – 1 West Brom
Bournemouth 2 – 0 Sunderland
Newcastle 1 – 2 Watford
Stoke 2 – 2 Leicester
Swansea 0 – 0 Everton
Man City 1 – 2 West Ham