Wenger praises gritty Arsenal's 'fantastic spirit'

Arsenal 2 Everton 1
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The Independent Football

Arsenal put their beautiful football to one side and instead produced a display of character and desire that suggests they are finding the steel to go with their trademark silk.

They had to respond after going behind in controversial circumstances to Louis Saha's first-half goal, a strike which both managers agreed should not have been allowed to stand. And as the match seemed to be slipping from their grasp with 20 minutes to go, Arsenal claimed the victory by forcing Everton into making uncharacteristic errors.

However, they also showed the ugly side to their beautiful game in an incident at half-time, which had Everton manager David Moyes spitting feathers about remarks from Cesc Fabregas to referee Lee Mason.

Moyes said: "The comments which Cesc Fabregas made to the fourth official and referee at half-time deserved a sending off. He's a big player for them. I think it changed the flow of the game. I'm not going to repeat what he said. If he'd said them on the pitch, he would have been off like that."

Arsenal denied the accusation but the incident follows a row during Sunday's FA Cup tie with Huddersfield Town when Fabregas tried to get an opponent sent off by waving an imaginary card.

Arsène Wenger may not mind all that much if it demonstrates the mean streak his side have to develop if they are to transform their promising football into trophies. They certainly showed grit and determination against Everton when with 20 minutes to go they seemed to be heading towards their fourth home defeat in the Premier League this season.

Wenger said: "It was a victory of a team with fantastic spirit and a never-say-die attitude rather than our usual game, but that is needed in this championship. I'm very happy because the spirit is maybe the aspect of the team that's been questioned the most, and that's where we've been the most convincing recently."

They went behind in the middle of the first half to a controversial and disputed goal from in-form Everton striker Saha. Having played hard-fought matches in the past week in both the Carling and FA Cups, it was beginning to look as if Arsenal's exertions in four competitions were taking their toll.

The home side began listlessly, and conceded after 24 minutes. Saha was two yards offside when Seamus Coleman attempted to find him with a lofted ball over the back four. However, Laurent Koscielny stuck out a boot to intercept the ball, playing it into the path of Saha. The French striker gratefully accepted the chance by firing low past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny with his left foot for his fourth goal in his last five games.

On the touchline Wenger went wild, holding his arms wide in supplication, as Mason gave the goal. Then, with the players in the positions ready for the restart, the Bolton official decided to listen to the advice of his linesman Stephen Child. After a brief chat, Mason stuck with his original decision and gave the goal, to the howls of protests from the Arsenal fans packed into the Emirates.

Both managers agreed afterwards that the goal should not have stood, and the sense of injustice felt by Arsenal prompted the alleged incident in the tunnel at half-time.

Emotions ran high, eight players were booked as the match became a battle of wills, won by Arsenal. The introduction of Andrei Arshavin turned the game, as with 20 minutes to go he pulled Arsenal level with a wonderful right-foot volley. A lobbed pass from Fabregas came off the head of Jack Rodwell and fell nicely for Arshavin, who gracefully put the ball away.

The momentum now was all with Arsenal, and they pushed for the victory they so desperately needed if they were to maintain pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United.

The Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard tipped over a dipping free-kick from Robin van Persie, and from the subsequent corner the visitors left Koscielny totally unmarked to score with a simple header.

Afterwards, Moyes was disappointed that his team were leaving London with nothing. "The players did a sterling job. We gave it away by our defending at a set-piece, so we have no one to blame but ourselves," the Everton manager said.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Song (Diaby, h-t), Wilshere (Bendtner, 68); Walcott, Fabregas, Rosicky (Arshavin, 62); Van Persie. Substitutes not used Almunia (gk), Eboué, Gibbs, Chamakh, Bendtner.

Everton (4-1-4-1): Howard; Neville (Jagielka, 78) , Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Fellaini; Coleman (Anichebe, 78), Arteta, Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov (Osman, 65); Saha. Substitutes not used Mucha (gk), Beckford, Gueye, Baxter.

Man of the Match Fabregas.

Match rating 6/10.

Referee L Mason (Bolton).

Attendance 60,014.