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The Spanish midfielder believes the Gunners showed a grittier side to their game by holding on to a 1-0 lead with 10 men after Carl Jenkinson's red card at the Stadium of Light

Mikel Arteta believes Arsenal proved their mental toughness and ability to grind out results by preserving a 1-0 lead over Sunderland with 10 men at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

The Gunners 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.
SUNDERLAND 0-1 ARSENAL
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And 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."

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Arsene 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 her to get to the Champions League. Over here there are five or six top teams."

Arsenal's FA Cup fifth round tie against Blackburn is followed by the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with Bayern Munich, and Arteta admits that February could make or break his side's season.

"This is the crucial month," he said. "Everything can look brighter at the end of this month, or really, really bad. We're on a really good run. We have players hitting top form."

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