VIRGIL VAN DIJK grassed himself up by confessing to some dirty tricks as he tried to stop Arsenal claiming their last-gasp winner.
The Dutch centre back kicked up some turf around the penalty spot, hoping it would handicap Santi Cazorla when he took the spot kick.
There are suspicions something similar was done prior the Spaniard slipping and missing from the spot at West Brom in November.
But Van Dijk didn’t get away with it, earning a booking and Cazorla kept his cool, and his balance, to fire down the middle to earn a vital three points for Arsene Wenger.
Van Dijk said: “It’s a penalty in the last minute so you try to do anything to prevent the goal and that’s what I did but it didn’t work.”
The winner stopped fans turning on Wenger but it had plenty of good fortune about it.
First referee Bobby Madley missed a clear foul on Shane Long, with Nacho Monreal raking his studs down the striker’s Achilles.
Then as play progressed, it should have been stopped with Laurent Koscielny – scorer of a spectacular overhead equaliser – laying on the ground having been kicked in the head.
Finally the penalty decision itself was dubious with Olivier Giroud deemed to have been brought down by Jose Fonte in added time.
“No one more then me feels hard done by and disappointed,” said Fonte.
“When Giroud asks me who gave the penalty away that says it all!”
Even Wenger said: “It was a bit lucky, especially in that situation.”
Saints had taken the lead in the 18th minute when the unfortunate Petr Cech deflected in the rebound from Dusan Tadic’s free-kick after tipping his shot onto the bar.
Had Cazorla’s winner not come, the Gunners would have spent Saturday night in ninth place, already seven points off Manchester City. Instead they went sixth, five points behind.
Wenger now has to turn his attentions to the Champions League, with a tough trip to France to face Paris St-Germain tomorrow.
Giroud looks sure to be in from the start at the Parc des Princes, with Wenger surprisingly opting to give 28-year-old striker Lucas Perez a full debut on Saturday, along with centre back Shkodran Mustafi – bought for a combined total of £52m.
The Perez deal raised eyebrows, due to his age, but 17 La Liga goals for Deportivo last season persuaded Wenger to go for him.
Asked if he could do something similar for the Gunners, Wenger said: “I hope so, let’s give him time, you know.
“We have scored goals since the start of the season, but we bought one more striker because I thought we needed one more,” he said.
“Let’s not judge him too quickly.”
Wenger then claimed Perez had “combined much better” in the second-half, a strange comment considering he replaced him in the 63rd minute.
“It’s not easy as well sometimes to start at home, the pressure is there, everybody has their eyes on you,” added Wenger.
“You could see that with Mustafi, especially in the second-half, he was much more comfortable than the first.”
None of the visitors left feeling comfortable about the way they were denied a point.
Winger Nathan Redmond said: “To not come away with anything due to a controversial decision is devastating.”