Wenger salutes top Gunners
© AFP

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised his players' character after they returned to the top of the Premier League table following a 4-1 victory over Everton here at Goodison Park.

The London club will start 2008 two points ahead of nearest rivals Manchester United at the summit following a gripping game.

Both teams finished with 10 men while Everton manager David Moyes said Arsenal's second goal should not have been allowed.

However, Wenger insisted his players deserved to be where they are and that they had it in them to win the English title for the first time since 2004.

"We have a great spirit in the dressing room as we have shown here," said Wenger. "We have shown that we can cope with all kinds of problems that come our way," the Frenchman added.

"We started slowly and looked nervous. We gave the ball away too much in the first half but I was pleased with the response after half time.

"If you don't win then people start questioning you and the way that you play. But we have worked hard for this win.

"Everton stopped us from playing our normal game and they played well. The turning point was that we made the most of our set-pieces in the second half. It was important we didn't concede after we went down to 10 men. But when we scored another goal and Everton had a player sent off then I knew we would win.

"Last season Everton played a very physical game when we lost here 1-0. I'm not surprised that they played that way again."

Everton were on course for their third straight home league win over Arsenal when Australia international midfielder Tim Cahill scored for the third time in as many games.

That gave Moyes's side a deserved lead at the break but Arsenal were level inside two minutes of the second-half when Eduardo took advantage of some slack defending. And the 24-year-old Brazilian scored again to give his side the lead although Moyes insisted he used his hand to control the ball.

Substitutes Emmanuel Adebayor and Tomas Rosicky rounded off the scoring in the dying stages to give Arsenal a stylish victory.

But the game was marred by two red cards. Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, who had already been booked, was sent-off for an ugly challenge on Everton substitute Andy Johnson.

Everton also finished with 10 men when Mikel Arteta was dismissed after an incident that saw him appear to elbow fellow Spaniard Cesc Fabregas.

Moyes said the final result was not a fair reflection of the game. "I don't think we deserved to lose by the scoreline that we did. But I have got to say that Arsenal defended well.

"I couldn't see that scoreline coming at half-time," the Everton manager added. "Overall I thought we were the better team and the best team lost.

"We passed the ball better than Arsenal. It was route one Arsenal and we couldn't cope."