Arsenal need to heed cards

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online
Arsenal are going to remember this little trilogy of matches with their old North-east rivals - and in all probability for all the wrong reasons. Their inability to find a way past an inspired Frenchman the previous week set their own Gallic leader up for a premature fall in the FA Cup in this Wednesday's replay while their rampant ill-discipline at Roker Park on Saturday cost them the chance of regaining the leadership in the Premiership.

However unfortunate one or two of their five dismissals have been this season there can be no escaping the fact that Arsenal have a serious disciplinary problem and the way in which their coach, Arsene Wenger, tackles it could determine the success or otherwise of their season. It is certainly time to start worrying when Dennis Bergkamp is sent off for an over-the-top tackle.

The most disturbing aspect of their performance on Saturday was the way they failed to heed the warning signs on their way to a collection of one red and five yellow cards, some of which are likely to come back to haunt them just as the absence of Ian Wright is currently doing (John Hartson will join him in suspension for Wednesday's game). With the booking of David Platt after just two minutes it was obvious that Mike Riley was not the sort of referee to exercise discretion and in no time at all he had become a champion of the little man's cause. And physically Sunderland are a little side compared to the strapping likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould and David Seaman. All of which made Arsenal's over-physical approach all the more difficult to fathom.

Wenger admits to being unsure of what kind of tackle is acceptable in the English game yet most of Arsenal's more offensive ones were either just late or plain clumsy. One would hope Wenger will have sharp words Hartson and Martin Keown who needlessly risked expulsion by their irresponsible behaviour at a time when they were on one booking apiece and Arsenal were already down to 10 men.

Bergkamp's dismissal - the first of his career - for a dangerous looking tackle on Paul Bracewell with two-thirds of the game to run did not necessarily represent an insurmountable task for the likes of Arsenal.

Indeed it might still have been a straightforward "One-nil to the Arsenal" job. Sunderland lacked neither the muscle nor the nous to penetrate Arsenal's well-drilled defence although it might have been interesting to see what a combination of young Michael Bridges' subtle prompting and Craig Russell's finishing might have achieved from the outset instead of their half-time substitution of one for the other. Adams' own goal in attempting to intercept Richard Ord's innocuous cross was the only way Sunderland were ever likely to score.

A combative sort like Peter Reid would no doubt have sympathised with Arsenal's misfortune if the Sunderland manager's side had not been on the wrong end of a controversial sending-off at Highbury in September. One way and another Bergkamp is likely to remain the focal point of interest when he returns to Roker on Wednesday to lead the Arsenal front line single- handedly. It promises to be a highly charged occasion, which is all Arsenal need.

Goal: Adams (66 og) 1-0.

Sunderland (3-5-2): Perez; Hall, Melville, Ord; Kubicki, Bracewell, Williams, Gray, Kelly; Mullin, Bridges (Russell h-t). Substitutes not used: Preece, Eriksson, Aiston, Heckingbottom (gk).

Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Keown, Adams, Bould; Parlour, Platt, Merson, Vieira, Winterburn (Hughes, 80); Hartson, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Linighan, Morrow, Shaw, Lukic (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Sunderland Gray, Kelly; Arsenal Platt, Hartson, Keown, Adams, Winterburn. Sending-off: Arsenal: Bergkamp.

Man of the match: Perez. Attendance: 21,154.