Wenger hits out at 'hysteria'

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Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, claimed vindication for his belief in pure football after his side defeated Manchester United 2-1 in the match of the season so far at the Emirates Stadium.

Criticised for lacking backbone in their defeat at Stoke last weekend, Arsenal were resolute in a game in which their defence collected three yellow cards but held out comfortably for six minutes of added time after Rafael da Silva had volleyed a fine goal for the champions. Samir Nasri scored twice for the home side.

"A great game, with both sides really going for it," Wenger said. "We went out with the attitude that we'll win whatever happens. We had one accident at Stoke, which provoked hysteria, and it was difficult to understand why everybody became so critical. We showed that we have a squad, which was questioned many times."

Half-a-dozen Arsenal players were absent, including the two principal attackers, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie, and if there was a weakness it was in the finishing of the lone striker, Nicklas Bendtner. He worked hard but passed up good scoring opportunities in each half. Fortunately for the home fans, who rallied behind their team throughout, Nasri scored twice in one game for the first time since his £12.8 million transfer from Marseille last summer. "In front of goal he can score with either foot," Wenger said. "He has power and pace and I encourage him to go into the final third. A tremendous finisher."

Cesc Fabregas, who helped Nasri outplay United's midfield, described it as Arsenal's best performance of the season, adding: "Last week we were not rubbish as everyone said. That's football, it changes quickly."

Sir Alex Ferguson was proud of United's part in a hugely entertaining spectacle, but criticised his normally reliable defence. He also agreed with Wenger that Arsenal were more adept at taking their chances. "We deserved something from the game," Ferguson said. "The number of chances we had was incredible." His other complaint was about a "clear handball" by Arsenal's full-back Gaël Clichy from a cross by the disappointing Wayne Rooney, who remains stuck on 99 club goals and cut a sorry figure.

Arsenal's victory lifted them into third place, two points above United, who have a game in hand. Last night, Liverpool's 3-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion – Robbie Keane scoring twice – moves them three points clear at the top above Chelsea, who play at Blackburn today.