Wednesday 18 January 2017

Arsene Wenger: I wish Arsenal had bought Diego Costa

Jeremy Wilson

Published 24/09/2016 | 10:30

Chelsea striker Diego Costa, centre, tangled with the Arsenal defence more than once last season
Chelsea striker Diego Costa, centre, tangled with the Arsenal defence more than once last season

Arsène Wenger has admitted that he would have rivalled Chelsea for the £32 million signing of Diego Costa in 2014 if he had known about the striker’s availability and has warned his Arsenal players that they must be “cold blooded” on Saturday amid any provocation.

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In only three Premier League games against Arsenal, Costa has already scored two goals and Wenger also felt that the outcome of his team’s two defeats last season were ultimately decided by how Gabriel and Per Mertesacker were sent off after first-half clashes with the 27-year-old.

Gabriel’s red card was later overturned and Costa was himself banned but the damage was already done before Arsenal also went down to 10 men at the Emirates when the striker went down under a challenge from Mertesacker.

There is a theory that Costa’s influence would be diluted without his on-field aggression but Wenger claimed on Friday night that his threat has increased this season with a calmer approach.

“He looks since the start of the season to have cleaned up his act, that he behaves more focused on the game and that makes him more dangerous,” said Wenger, who rejected the notion that Costa risked losing an edge from his game. “I don’t think so,” he added. “You want full commitment. Commitment is different from this kind of overreactions. He is a fighter and you respect that. The rest is down to the referees to get the game and the rules respected. I never thought he would leave Atlético Madrid at the time – I was surprised.”

Asked if he would have made “a harder play” for Costa if he had known of his availability in 2014, Wenger said: “Yes. I like him as a quality striker. Costa is similar to Drogba. I like the qualities of the player. All the rest around is not needed.”

The perception is that Arsenal have lacked a streetwise edge in comparison to Chelsea and the admission that Wenger would happily have had Costa in his team will surprise some. However, he did also try to buy Luis Suárez in 2012 and believes that his team have now added a more rugged edge.

The responsibility to deal with Costa will largely rest with a new centre-back partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi. Wenger is also concerned about a player he knows even better in Cesc Fabregas, whose pass last season to Costa was the catalyst for Mertesacker’s dismissal.

“I cannot put to Costa the fact that we got caught last year,” said Wenger. “It’s the tandem more. Fabregas found him quickly with his runs. The first incident [last season with Gabriel] we were a bit guilty to react, the second we were caught tactically. It was the connection between Fabregas and Costa who caught us against Chelsea.”

As well as Gabriel and Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have committed red card offences against Chelsea over the past two years. So what has Wenger told his players?

“Be completely cold blooded and just focus on the game and not respond. Just try to negate his [Costa's] qualities and his game. You need to be committed but by respecting the rules of the game and responding. Last year we were a bit unlucky at Chelsea to be down to 10 men because we got a red card and it was [rescinded] after. In the other game, we deserved the red card because we were caught on a quality run by him.”

Wenger also revealed that Aaron Ramsey has had a setback on his return from injury and is now almost certainly out of Arsenal’s next three games as well as Wales’s two World Cup qualifiers. Ramsey was close to resuming full training after limping out of the defeat against Liverpool on the opening day of the season but, after feeling pain in his hamstring, Wenger has ruled that caution must be exercised in his reintegration from what is a grade one tear.

“Aaron Ramsey is still struggling with his hamstring and I don’t think that he will be available for our next game against Basel or at Burnley, so before the break he will not be available,” said Wenger. “He is not completely free in his mind yet to push completely, so we stop him every time when he has a little pain.

“He is in the last days of his rehab and as long as he is not completely comfortable, we do not push him. We had a few disappointments because he was close to joining again and every time he is not completely ready. Not far, but we have to be cautious with him.”

Olivier Giroud, however, could return against Chelsea on Saturday, when Wenger is expected to make 11 changes from the team that beat Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup.

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