LONDON • Arsene Wenger saluted Mathieu Flamini's decision to fight for his place after the midfielder's brilliant brace fired Arsenal's 2-1 League Cup third-round triumph at bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Flamini was Arsenal's unlikely hero at White Hart Lane as he scored his first goals since March in his first appearance of the season to earn his side a fourth-round tie at second-tier Sheffield Wednesday.
The Frenchman, who came close to leaving Arsenal in the last transfer window, punished Tottenham goalkeeper Michel Vorm's error to open the scoring from close-range in the first half.
Then Flamini stole the show by lashing a sublime 78th-minute volley past Vorm from 20 metres after Tottenham had equalised through a Calum Chambers own goal.
Wenger revealed he had told Flamini he was free to leave before the start of the season, but he was impressed with the way the veteran decided to fight for his place in his second spell at the club.
LEAGUE CUP DRAW
Manchester City v Crystal Palace
Liverpool v Bournemouth
Manchester United v Middlesbrough
Everton v Norwich City
Southampton v Aston Villa
Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal
Hull City v Leicester City
Stoke City v Chelsea
Ties to be played on Oct 27-28
"You do not expect Mathieu Flamini to score two goals, but he was certainly frustrated for a long time, and he went for it. He scored two good goals," Wenger said of the 31-year-old, who also impressed on Wednesday with his tenacity, resilience and determination.
"He has worked very hard recently. He was focused and I wanted him to strengthen our defensive midfield. He is a fighter, he is a winner as well. I told him at the start of the season it might be difficult to be a starter, but he decided to stay and he has been fighting.
"I fought to keep him but he is at an age when you always consider it is better to let them go if they are not focused. But he wanted to stay."
Flamini made 33 appearances last season and believed he had to make a statement in his rare start.
"I had a point to prove because I hadn't played for a while and I'd been working hard, but my team-mates did a great job too," he said.
After defeats by Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea last week, Wenger was pleased to see his players' spirit remains intact.
"Overall we responded well mentally and physically to the challenge we faced," he said. "We were unlucky to concede the own goal and still found the resources to score the winner."
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino made eight changes to his team but insisted he was right to make the switches despite a first defeat in four matches.
Spurs striker Harry Kane had a goal disallowed for offside and saw an acrobatic effort headed off the line in the second half.
"We missed the opportunity to win. We dominated the second half and had the better chances," he said. "In general the performance was good, but both the goals we conceded were a little bit unlucky and maybe we made some mistakes."
The Argentine is keen to move ahead from the loss and focus on their next English Premier League game tomorrow against table-toppers Manchester City.
"We need to prepare for City... we have to be strong," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS