Arsenal went top of the Premier League last night with a 4-2 win over Bolton Wanderers but it came amid controversy with William Gallas' studs-up foul on Mark Davies described as "akin to an assault" by Owen Coyle.
Gallas put Davies out of the game with a shocking challenge that went unseen by referee Alan Wiley and led directly to the move in which Arsenal scored their second goal to bring the score back to 2-2. Given that Wiley admitted to Coyle that he had not seen the tackle, the Football Association may yet look at it retrospectively and punish Gallas.
Coyle said that Gallas should have been sent off and complained that Arsenal's players had not put the ball out of play with Davies stricken on the floor. The resulting move led to Cesc Fabregas' equaliser. Coyle said: "The referee's not seen it, and the lad's prostrate on the ground. Arsenal being full of fair play as we keep hearing, carried on playing and scored on the break."
Having fallen behind to a goal from Gary Cahill and another from the penalty spot from Matt Taylor, Arsenal staged a remarkable comeback. Tomas Rosicky, Fabregas, Thomas Vermaelen and Andrei Arshavin scored the goals that take them to the top of the Premier League on goals scored. They have made up 11 points on Chelsea since a 3-0 defeat to their London rivals on 29 November.
However, it was Gallas' tackle on Davies that was at the centre of the controversy last night. Coyle said: "It was a bad tackle. There's no getting away from it. If William Gallas doesn't accept that's a bad tackle... I could accept it if Gallas had got a bit of the ball, but he's touched absolutely none of it. Mark Davies played the ball forward and he's caught him late. That's rubbed salt into the wounds. Even with 10 men, we could have defended that better, so it's not an excuse. But it was a turning point.
"[Wiley] said was that he never saw it. I was 40 yards away and I saw it. I'd suggest he was five or 10 [yards away]. Maybe he was at a bad angle. I don't want to sit here and make excuses, but I certainly felt it. I've seen red cards for less."
As for stopping the game, Coyle said that Gallas should have taken responsibility. "It's a grey area – but Mark was clearly in agony. Maybe, with the atmosphere, people didn't know. But the ball was moving about a bit before they scored. Gallas knows he's caught him. You know when you've caught somebody – not that I ever tackled anyone – but the only person you can ask is William Gallas."
Wenger took the sting out of the row by conceding that the tackle was a bad one but said that his players should not have been expected to stop playing – that was the responsibility of the referee.
The Arsenal manager said: "I'm sorry if the tackle was not good. There are two things I've heard. One, that he [Coyle] was not happy with the tackle. I'm sorry the tackle was not a good one, and I apologise. And the second [criticism], that we played on. I think that [criticism] is unfair.
"The players didn't even know what was happening behind them when a player goes down. I don't believe you can kick the ball out every time a player is down when you have the ball. That means, if you're 2-1 down, you have to kick the ball out every time a player goes down. The referee was in a strong position."