Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has admitted he wishes he battled Chelsea for Diego Costa ’s signature in 2014 and said the only reason he didn’t is because he was not aware of his availability.
Costa joined the Blues for £32m and fired Chelsea to the title in his first season at Stamford Bridge as he scored 20 times for Jose Mourinho’s side.
He endured a difficult second season but has been back to his best under new boss Antonio Conte this term, averaging a goal a game having struck five times already, something only West Ham’s Michail Antonio can match.
Wenger’s regret at not joining the bidding process for the Spaniard is understandable considering Costa has replaced former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba as Arsenal’s chief tormenter since arriving in the Premier League.
The 27-year-old has scored twice in three games against the Gunners but Wenger also feels that his side’s two defeats to their London rivals last season were decided by Costa’s clashes with Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, both of whom saw red in the first half of the games.
Costa was retrospectively banned for his part in the altercations and despite his perceived aggressive nature, Wenger believes his game has benefitted from taking 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 claims a dilution of his aggression will not mean he will lose his edge.
“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 firmer approach for the former Atletico man had he known his availability, Wenger said: “Yes. I like him as a quality striker. Diego Costa is similar to Drogba. I like the qualities of the player. All the rest around is not needed.”