Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta believes his side proved their mental toughness by preserving a 1-0 lead over Sunderland with 10 men.
Arsene Wenger’s men have now earned back-to-back clean sheets and 1-0 wins having overcome a spell of poor defensive form at the start of 2013.
Arteta reserved praise for the Arsenal defence, which withstood a late bombardment from the hosts after Carl Jenkinson had been sent off in the second half.
“You have to win games like that,” the Spaniard told reporters. “In the last five or 10 minutes they were hanging balls into the box.
“It’s difficult to get the ball out when they do that, but we defended really well and Wojciech Szczesny made two or three outstanding saves.
“Criticism has to be constructive. We’re not as high in the table as we have the ability to be, so we know we’re there to be criticised. The only thing we can do is improve where we are in the league.
“Everyone knows we play really good football at times and create a lot of chances. Hopefully from now to the end of the season we will move upwards in the league.
“But we showed we can battle too. It’s always difficult with 10 men.
“Throw on another striker like Sunderland did, and start putting balls into the box. It puts you under pressure. But I think our centre-backs and the ‘keeper were outstanding.”
Wenger’s team remain outside the Champions League qualification places but will have a chance to bridge the gap of four points between themselves and Tottenham at White Hart Lane in three weeks’ time.
“It’s a massive game,” Arteta said. “It could be decisive in the race for the top four. I know the manager’s record of always getting there but 10 years ago it was easier than it is now.
“Now there are so many more sides with equal spending power. There’s been a big improvement in English football.
“There is no other league in Europe where it’s as tough and no other league where the levels are as hard as here to get to the Champions League. Over here there are five or six top teams.”