Football: Wenger defends carded Keown

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DENNIS BERGKAMP insists Arsenal are not prepared to temper their abrasive style and are willing to risk the consequences of their poor disciplinary record to retain the Premiership title. And if teams like Blackburn Rovers, beaten 1-0 by the Dutchman's 14th goal of the season at Highbury on Tuesday night, want to test that commitment with their own brand of belligerence then the Gunners will always be ready to take them on.

Arsenal's centre-back Martin Keown and the Blackburn winger Keith Gillespie were both sent off in a combative fixture in which seven other players were booked by the referee, Graham Poll. It was Arsenal's ninth sending- off this season and the 10th for Blackburn. Arsene Wenger's side have now collected 82 yellow cards in all competitions this campaign and Blackburn 89.

Bergkamp said: "There are games against certain teams and certain players you know will always be very tough. We have good quality but we've still got to be aggressive. We can never afford to sacrifice that part of our game.

"We know all the yellow and red cards could hurt us in the end but it hasn't hurt us that much so far even though we struggled a little in the early part of the season.

"Nine sendings-off is a lot this season and maybe it's something that could change next season, but a lot of the red cards were a result of two yellow ones and if you look at every case there is often a reason to think it's not really deserved."

Martin Keown, who had tangled early on with Ashley Ward, was dismissed 20 minutes from time for a second bookable offence, reacting to a foul by Chris Sutton with a swinging arm.

Wenger admitted that the 21 Arsenal sendings-off during his 30 months in charge is "not a record I am very proud of" but pointed out: "Of the nine red cards this season we probably deserved half of them.

"It's not my job to criticise referees but to bring the best performance from my team and when you fight hard, as you have to do, you sometimes suffer. Keown deserved to be sent off. He should not have had that reaction, but don't tell me he is a dirty player."