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The Italian striker escaped punishment for his tackle on Alex Song in the first half of their victory, but was eventually sent off for a second bookable offence late in the game

Arsene Wenger believes Mario Balotelli should have been sent off sooner in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Manchester City.

The Italian striker clattered into Bacary Sagna on a number of occasions in the first half, and was lucky the referee did not see his dangerous tackle on Alex Song.

He calmed down somewhat in the second half before inexplicably crashing into Sagna again and earning himself his second yellow card of the match with seconds remaining of normal time.

Wenger told reporters after the match: "If the referee had a television it would have been a red card.

"He was on the fringe in many situations. He flirted with orange [between yellow and red cards] a few times. In the end he got the second yellow card.

"I don’t know him too much and I don’t want to interfere with Mancini’s job. Everybody has his own case in his own camp and I have enough work.

"I thought it was a bad tackle [on Alex Song at first glance]. I thought maybe it was a red but I didn't know until I saw it."

Mikel Arteta’s goal was the only difference between the two sides, his 25-yard strike with three minutes left on the clock earning Arsenal a vital win in their hunt for the Champions League places.

Wenger said: "It was a very well taken goal and it gave us three points we deserved because we had consistent domination in the game.

"We had over 60% possession and Manchester City had one or two good moments but after 10 minutes in the second half it was all us. I always felt the goal would come.

"We kept going and at home recently we have produced some outstanding performances against anybody and the team continues to grow in quality."

The loss at the Emirates Stadium leaves City eight points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester United, and with only six games remaining in the league the gap is becoming ominous.

Wenger stated that Roberto Mancini’s men were "not completely" out of the title race, but insisted that Sir Alex Ferguson's side are now heavy favourites.

"But with six games to go and with eight points behind, it makes their home game against Manchester United [important]," he said.

"When a horse smells his stable…it is difficult to stop them when they’re in the final sprint."

The triumph was the Gunners’ seventh win in eight league matches and Wenger is now ruing their poor run of form at the start of 2012.

He said: "We have taken 24 points out of 27 and the points we got, many of them were deserved. We have improved as a team that is 100 per cent for sure.

"We started too deep and we had the dip in January that cost us severely because today I think we are nine points behind City and had we won the games we lost in January we could be there."

When asked if his side could catch Mancini’s men, he continued: "Unless they give up I don’t think so, no."

The clash was Samir Nasri’s second match at the Emirates Stadium since his multi-million pound departure for the Etihad Stadium last August, and Wenger thought the midfielder had a good game despite City’s lack of momentum in the latter stages.

The French coach added: "He had a good half but in the second half it was much more difficult for the offensive players because we had so much possession but they had no real opportunity to attack."

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