Arsène Wenger accused Everton of going "over the edge" to intimidate Arsenal at the Emirates and was critical of the referee, Neil Swarbrick, for failing to dismiss the visitors' Darron Gibson as a goalless draw hindered both clubs' pursuit of a top-four place.
Gibson was booked for a foul on Theo Walcott and, six minutes later, shoulder-barged the England forward but received only a verbal warning for the second offence. Tempers boiled over from a fractious first half as the teams went off at half-time, with Kevin Mirallas squirting water at Jack Wilshere to prompt a mêlée in the tunnel. No cards were shown by the referee and it remains to be seen whether the incident warrants inclusion in his match report to be filed to the Football Association.
Wenger's frustrations at Everton's perceived strong-arm tactics lingered after the final whistle. "It's a part of the game, and we had to deal with it, but the referee has to make the right decisions," he said. "Basically the game was very intense physically. I felt that in the first half the referee didn't deal at all well with the intimidating physical challenges.
"We responded well to the physicality. We had fantastic commitment. It was detrimental to the fluency of our game but we kept going, had good concentration. It was a game of huge intensity, a fight for both teams. They decided to make it very physical for us to disturb our game and sometimes went over the edge but I don't blame Everton. The referee had to make the right decision."
Asked whether he thought Gibson should have been dismissed, Wenger said: "Yes. I don't know why [he was not booked for a second time], honestly. But he should have had a yellow card already before the first one."
Everton's manager, David Moyes, praised his side's approach. "Do you mean when we were a little bit rough with the tackling?" he said. "Up north we do that quite often. That's actually allowed in football. We weren't going to come here and let Arsenal stroke the ball around and make 600 passes. I thought Arsène was complaining quite a lot [to the fourth official]. Was I upset? I just thought it was quite a lot." Neither manager admitted to witnessing the trouble in the tunnel.
The draw leaves Arsenal in third place, two points clear of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, with those sides having two games and one game in hand respectively. Wenger claimed his charges remain "in a strong position" in that race for Champions League qualification, even if the stalemate constituted two points dropped. "If we win our coming games we'll get there," he said. "The other teams have 58 with a game in hand but they play each other. My belief was always strong and still is. I'm confident we'll do it."
Moyes, in contrast, claimed he would accept a Europa League place if it was offered to Everton now. "For us to overhaul an Arsenal, Tottenham or a Chelsea … if I said much different, you'd think 'He's not right, him,'" he added. "I would take it, but I'm going to try and get Champions League. If we're still getting that mention in mid-April, it's not bad for Everton."
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