Barcelona had not beaten Atletico Madrid this season. Over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup in August, Barcelona won on away goals, and yet they didn’t beat Diego Simeone’s side.
This past Saturday’s clash between both sides at the Vicente Calderon was a title decider, a head-to-head of the joint two best teams in Spain, tussling over undisputed rights to call themselves first. It was billed as a pivotal moment in the season and Real Madrid were nowhere to be seen.
In the absence of Lionel Messi and Neymar, both of whom were on the bench, Diego Costa was at the centre of attention. The Brazilian-born striker has been earmarked as Arsenal’s most obvious and perhaps best option for strengthening their attack either this month, though highly unlikely, or in the summer.
Following the 0-0 draw, which was far more entertaining than the score line suggests, Arsenal fans were questioning where that strengthening was coming from, with Costa not looking a clear-cut better forward than Olivier Giroud.
It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to question the merits of a player based on one match. That’s why clubs scout players for multiple games, months or even years.
In truth, the draw with Barcelona wasn’t the best match to gauge whether Costa was a suitable target for Arsene Wenger’s side. It’s what came before. It’s what will more than likely come afterwards. Costa, up there with the scoring records of the very best in Europe at this time, led Atletico’s comeback and eventual win against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey final last season. He was on the score sheet again when the two sides met this season in league. He scored four in three Champions League group games, helping Atletico to become the first team in this season’s competition to advance to the knockout round – and that speaks of Simeone’s team as a whole, not just Costa.
If you want more evidence as to how good Costa has been over these past 18 months: two of the very best national sides in the world were fighting, quite openly, about having him commit to either of them ahead of this summer’s World Cup.
Against Barcelona, Costa did a lot of work away from the penalty area – when Radamel Falcao was in the team, Costa was regularly deployed on the flanks. He fought for possession, he held up play; it wasn’t too dissimilar to what Giroud currently does for Arsenal. The difference between both men is quite plain, though: Costa’s 23 goals in all competitions to Giroud’s 10. Remember, it’s still January, and whatever may be said about a striker not being what a certain club needs, 23 at this stage and away from the otherworldly figures attained by Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is a remarkable feat.
But even with the obvious similarities between both Giroud and Costa – which is no bad thing if Arsenal are looking to strengthen along the same lines of what they already have – Costa is a far more natural goal scorer, or at least he looks it now after blossoming into such a forward under the tutelage of Simeone.
There’s a difference in their personalities too. Giroud, as good as he can be, doesn’t have that driving, belligerent style of Costa. The Brazilian is simply a menace and a constant threat for opposition defences. The Frenchman is a complement and an at times necessary aid to the wizardry of Arsenal’s midfield. But as the criticism goes, he’s not a forward who will hit big numbers. At least not now.
Come the end of the season, Atletico may have no choice but to sell Costa, predominantly due to their financial situation. Costa’s value is at its highest and the club will be foolish to turn down an offer in or around the player’s release clause.
Arsenal have the means to go ahead and make such a signing. Would it be worth it? What can be said about Costa at this time is that there is a lot of belief both inside Atletico and outside that he can fire the club to more silverware this season. The fact that one of Arsenal’s most obvious areas of criticism is the doubts over Giroud’s ability to do the same should be telling enough.