Arsenal on red alert at Roker Park: Football

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The Independent Online
The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, was busy yesterday defending his team's reputation on the eve of tonight's FA Cup third-round replay at Sunderland, the clubs' third meeting in 11 days.

Saturday's 1-0 Premiership defeat at Roker Park was a bitter blow to the Gunners' title hopes. But as much damage was done by a game that saw five Arsenal players booked and Dennis Bergkamp sent off.

Bergkamp's dreadful lunge on Paul Bracewell, admittedly out of character, brought the Highbury side their fifth red card in 10 games. Wenger's team have also picked up more than 50 bookings this term to give them the worst disciplinary record in the Premiership, but the Frenchman denied claims that they were overly aggressive.

"I do not think we deserve the disciplinary record we've got this season," Wenger said. "We have had five sendings-off, but each one of them was a different case. If you look at the Dennis Bergkamp situation on Saturday, that was down to a little individual frustration and a bad reaction."

Bracewell suffered knee ligament damage as a consequence of that Bergkamp tackle, and he is set to join the lengthy Sunderland missing list. It ensures that Bergkamp will receive a hostile reception from what could be the last-ever FA Cup tie at Roker, but the more important question Wenger must answer concerns the identity of the man to partner the Dutchman in attack.

Ian Wright completes his three-game ban while John Hartson, scorer of the opening goal in the 1-1 Highbury draw, is also ruled out after talking his way to a red card against Middlesbrough.

While youngster Paul Shaw is an option, he is regarded as more of a midfield player, and either Paul Merson or David Platt, both of whom have considerable experience of a striking role, is likely to be asked to play in a more advanced position.

At least Wenger picked up no further injuries on Saturday, although Lee Dixon's return after an ankle injury to training yesterday came too late for him to be involved.

For Sunderland, the young striker Michael Bridges is doubtful with a groin problem and they are already without Martin Scott, Alex Rae, Steve Agnew and Paul Stewart, while the Swede Jan Eriksson is ineligible.

Their coach, Bobby Saxton, said: "We are down to the bare bones, there's no flesh on them at all. Arsenal have got players who have made more international appearances than some of our lads have made League appearances."

West Ham will look to make home advantage - and a green pitch - tell when Brian Flynn brings his Wrexham side to the East End. Harry Redknapp looks likely to keep the side that held the Premiership leaders, Liverpool, to a draw at Anfield on Saturday, although the on-loan Mike Newell will have to step down from the bench.

Wrexham looked on course for an upset at the Racecourse Ground when Bryan Hughes nodded them in front before Hugo Porfirio's delicately flighted equaliser. Flynn has a doubt over Kevin Russell, who has an injured knee, but is hopeful of putting on a show for the estimated 2,500 visiting fans.

"Our away support has been brilliant," Flynn said. "They are always very vocal and they showed when we went down to West Ham and drew in the Cup four years ago how important they are. Hopefully they can be again."

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