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Feb 3, 2013

Wenger impressed by Monreal debut

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was pleased with the performance of debutant Nacho Monreal in the Gunners' 1-0 win over Stoke on Saturday, admitting the fiery clash was a tough introduction to English football.

• Blog: Patience rewarded

Lukas Podolski's 78th minute winner, which came in controversial circumstances, moved Arsenal into fourth spot and Monreal impressed in his side's stubborn defensive efforts to keep the Potters at bay.

Arsenal's deadline-day signing had little time to adjust to things at the Emirates before being thrown into the starting line-up and Wenger believes there were positive signs from the Spaniard.

"There's no better culture shock than Stoke when you come from Spain, because of course they have a very physical game, and I think [Monreal] dealt well with it," Wenger said. "The satisfaction is that Monreal had a good start for a player who just arrived yesterday and is in the team today. He had no time to think about it, but overall I felt he got stronger and stronger during the game."

In a game littered with talking points, Podolski's strike was one of the most contentious after the linesman ruled Theo Walcott to be offside only for referee Chris Foy to overrule the decision and allow the goal to stand.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis believes the reaction of Arsenal players to surround the linesman was 'disappointing', suggesting it influenced Foy. But Wenger claims Walcott was inactive during the play and the goal was justified.

"I haven't seen it from the bench - what happened," he said. "I thought the linesman had given offside, I couldn't see anything else, or maybe somebody from us had handled the ball, that's all I could think.

"But in fact I have heard that Walcott was offside but he was not interfering with the game, then it's a normal goal. Who wouldn't do that? I am sorry if we did that, but we were trying to understand why the linesman disallowed the goal. We didn't do it in an aggressive way."

Although he was critical of the referees' decision not to brandish a red card for Ryan Shawcross's late challenge on Laurent Koscielny and Michael Owen's attempt to punch Mikel Arteta, Wenger praised the reserved demeanour of his side.

"There were some heated moments, I don't think there was anything exceptional in the tackles," he said. "Theo Walcott god good treatment today, but I am very happy because the way he responded to it was with full commtiment and desire to impose himself. That is where you see that Walcott has become a different player recently.

"They [Stoke] know that we try to play a game based on movement and technique and they oppose us with a very strong defence... Overall it was a physical game with a team who tries to get some points and we expected that. We prepared mentally for that."

Arsenal sit in fourth place with Everton and Tottenham providing stern competition for Champions League qualification. Despite only amassing five points from five league games before the Stoke win, Wenger is confident his side have the potential to hold off their rivals.

"I said before the West Ham game and the Liverpool game that we are in a position where we can't drop points," he added. "We dropped points against Liverpool but we couldn't do it again today. What is more important is the quality of our performances is there, the spirit is there and the target to be in the top four is very important now because we have strengthened our belief and confidence."

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