It took a few days, but we’ve finally reached a point of resolution, one that most not currently wearing Chelsea shirts saw as closest to correct. Diego Costa, the Premier League’s preeminent bully, got his seemingly well-earned castigation from the English Football Association: a three-match ban that feels like a rolled-up newspaper swatting the nose of a naughty puppy. Gabriel Paulista, whose admittedly stupid “kick-out” — or rather, non-contact boot-raising aimed in Costa’s direction — will be allowed to play this weekend after his red card and subsequent three-match ban was overturned.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for debate. Chelsea fans are perhaps right to assert that Gabriel’s intentions should trump his lack of kicking accuracy. And certainly, the crux of Arsenal’s appeal — external video provided by ESPN Brazil, the only camera that picked up that Gabriel did not make contact with Costa’s leg — should raise concerns about consistency of enforcement as well as what’s permissible evidence in appeals. Regardless, most casual observers see a bottom line: The perpetrator on this day was Diego Costa, whose constant disregard for what constitutes fair play is as frustrating as it was predictable.
So here we are, justice has finally been reached. Or has it? This disciplinary switcheroo came days after the final whistle, long after the result of the game was changed irreversibly in the span of a few minutes. After all, the game was tied when the controversial decision came. It’s possible Chelsea may have been on their way to another win over their London rivals, but we will never know. Surely a missed red card followed by a soft one awarded the other way, a two-man swing, would have affected the match one way or the other.
Whichever way you feel about the decision itself, the fact remains that yet another one of this league’s marquee matchups, two teams picked by many in the preseason to be fighting over the title, was marred by a refereeing decision. We spent the days following one of this league’s biggest games not marveling over individual talent or dissecting the subtle tactical changes that swung momentum to one side or the other; rather, we’re forced to focus on the moment where it all went awry, when the game slipped irredeemably from the officials’ hands.
And yet referee Mike Dean, whose obliviousness to Costa’s inevitable tactics bordered on the unbelievable, will take the field this weekend at Upton Park. He won’t get any more training or any more in-game help. Mike Dean, whose superiors made the rare ruling that beyond a shadow of a doubt he was wrong enough to be overturned, will face no discipline or even a review for essentially blowing one of the highest-profile games of the year.