| 14.3°C Belfast

Wenger plays down Gallas row as Arsenal go top

Arsene Wenger hailed the mental strength of his Arsenal side after they claimed first place in the Barclays Premier League with a 4-2 win over Bolton at Emirates Stadium

However, the Arsenal boss moved to diffuse a row over William Gallas' controversial tackle which left Mark Davies with a suspected broken ankle.

Owen Coyle's men - beaten 2-0 by the Gunners on Sunday - took a shock lead after seven minutes through Gary Cahill, and Matthew Taylor then doubled the advantage from the penalty spot.

However, Wenger's youngsters showed the character of champions to rally before half-time through Tomas Rosicky's strike.

Captain Cesc Fabregas netted a controversial equaliser on 52 minutes, after Gallas had appeared to foul Davies in the build-up, and then Thomas Vermaelen completed the comeback.

Andrey Arshavin scored a fourth to take the Gunners above Chelsea on goals scored, albeit having now played a match more - but nevertheless a scenario which looked so unlikely following a resounding 3-0 home defeat by the Blues at the end of November, which left Arsenal some 11 points adrift.

Wenger said: "Chelsea have a game in hand, but it is good.

"We had two difficult games against Bolton with a new manager, two cup games almost, and our mental and physical strength was tested again tonight.

"We are certainly much more physically resistant.

"You cannot find a team better than Bolton in doing what they did tonight - they marked us man to man, didn't give us an inch of space. Physically, you are never better tested than against Bolton."

Gallas appeared to catch Davies on the ankle as the pair went for a 50/50 ball, but play was allowed to continue despite the Bolton protests as their man lay on the ground.

Arshavin battled to the edge of the area, where possession broke to Fabregas and he charged into the box before slipping a low angled drive through the keeper's legs.

There was a delay as Davies finally received treatment, and eventually had to be taken off on a stretcher, replaced by Gavin McCann. The midfielder will have X-rays to determine the extent of the damage.

Wenger said: "I am sorry if the tackle was not good, and I apologise.

"However, to complain that we went on to play, I think that is unfair.

"The players did not even know what was happening behind them, whether the player has got up again or not.

"I don't believe you can kick the ball out every time a player is down when you win the ball. That is why they changed the rules.

"Remember Everton: I did not think they should have kicked the ball out, and it was a much more obvious situation. I said it was okay and they might have gone 3-1 up."

Wenger added: "We got some tackles, some big ones, but we had to cope with it.

"I am sorry if it is a foul, but it didn't look dirty from outside."

Coyle was less than impressed by Gallas' challenge.

"I think it was closer to an assault than a tackle," he told Sky Sports. "I would suggest it's probably closer to a sending-off as far as I'm concerned."

He continued: "However, the fact is the referee has not seen it, and the lad is prostrate on the ground, and Arsenal being full of fair play as we keep hearing, have carried on and scored an equaliser.

"That is hard to take."

Coyle revealed Davies would have an X-ray to assess the damage.

He added: "It was a bad tackle, there is no getting away from it.

"You can accept it if he gets a bit of the ball, because that is the game we play and it can happen, but he has not touched any of the ball and it rubs salt into the wounds.

"I don't want to sit here and make excuses, but I have seen red cards for less."

Coyle, though, maintains his relegation battlers have what it takes to stay up.

He said: "We came and tried to take the game to Arsenal, but were undone by a bit of quality in the end.

"I have seen enough in the two games to suggest we have enough quality and, if we work hard, we can survive.

"We have enough in the locker to get ourselves out of it."

Belfast Telegraph