- - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LONDON — Conflicting perspectives on Diego Costa echoed throughout Stamford Bridge. Shrill whistles of discontent rang from the pocket of Arsenal supporters tucked in the Shed End, only to be drowned out by the Chelsea contingent’s endearing chants of “Diego.”

That scene played out on several occasions during Saturday’s marquee English Premier League clash. On a day the Spaniard didn’t score — or even play particularly well — few could argue he was the deciding factor in Chelsea’s 2-0 triumph.

Executing his finely tuned role as antagonist-in-chief, Costa baited Arsenal defender Gabriel into a crippling red card just before halftime while avoiding punishment for his own indiscretions.

Enjoying a numerical advantage, Chelsea rode second-half strikes from Kurt Zouma and Eden Hazard to victory over its London rival.

“He can do what he wants — he stays on,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “He gets always away with it. It’s quite honestly surprising.”

Saturday’s decisive moment came just before halftime. Battling in Arsenal’s box, Costa put his hands on the face of Laurent Koscielny before knocking the Gunners defender to the ground with a bump to the chest.

Costa received a yellow card, but the drama didn’t end there. Koscielny’s center back partner Gabriel promptly got in Costa’s face, kicked out at the Chelsea star and saw red to expedite Arsenal’s demise.

It was the latest in a series of controversial episodes involving Costa since his high-profile arrival from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2014. Although Costa has been productive, to the tune of 23 goals for Chelsea, the 26-year-old’s penchant for gamesmanship has developed into his defining trait.

“I think it’s unacceptable — his behavior, looking at the pictures — what he does to Koscielny,” Wenger said. “He pushes him down, hits him in the face.”

Pressed on these incidents by a reporter postgame, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was unimpressed.

“I can guess that when you were a kid you were playing badminton,” he quipped.

The defending champions snapped a rare two-game losing streak in league play with the victory, improving to 2-1-3, while Arsenal dropped to 3-1-2.

Mourinho also moved to 8-1-6 all time against the frustrated Wenger — who he famously referred to as a “specialist in failure” last year — with the Arsenal manager’s lone victory coming in August’s Community Shield.

“I’ve played against Arsenal, I don’t know, 12, 15, 18 times, and only once he didn’t moan,” Mourinho said. “That day we lost the game, we lost the cup. It wasn’t good for us, but we behaved in a fantastic way. No excuses, no crying, no moaning.”

After Zouma’s far-post header of a Cesc Fabregas free kick put Chelsea up in the 53rd minute, Arsenal managed to withstand the Blues’ pressure and turned to substitutes Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in search of an equalizer.

Then Arsenal’s hopes were all but extinguished in the 79th minute, when midfielder Santi Cazorla received a second yellow card for a reckless slide tackle on Fabregas. Hazard added the insurance tally 11 minutes later, seeing his deflected effort bounce past former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

“The moment we come back into the game in the final 20 minutes, we get Cazorla sent off,” Wenger said. “Then it’s game over.”

There was little talk of Cazorla’s ejection, with Costa dominating the postgame discussion. While Wenger was adamant that both Gabriel and Costa should have been sent off, Mourinho defended his striker.

In his mind, it was a lack of “emotional control” that tripped up Arsenal — not any sort of villainy from Costa.

“If you want to speak about Diego Costa with me, it is just to say that he played like he has to play,” Mourinho said. “That’s why you have full stadiums, you sell to television all around the world for millions and millions, because the game has to be played like that.”

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