Football: Wenger insists `Arsenal not dirty'

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Arsene Wenger yesterday defended his team's reputation after accusations of dirty play, directed particularly at Dennis Bergkamp. "Dennis Bergkamp isn't dirty - and neither is my team," he said.

The Dutch striker was criticised by Frank Leboeuf after the Chelsea defender was sent off for two fouls on Bergkamp during Sunday's frenetic London derby. Leboeuf accused Bergkamp of being dirty and called the Gunners the toughest and most violent side in the Premiership.

Wenger sprang to Bergkamp's defence. "Dennis isn't a dirty player and nobody could convince me that he is," the Arsenal manager said.

"I think he is the best player in the Premiership at the moment. If I wasn't the manager, I would pay money to watch him play - and I don't like dirty players.

"Spectators go to football matches to watch people like Dennis and they wouldn't do that if he was that sort of player. If you are calling Dennis dirty, then I don't know who isn't."

Bergkamp - like defender Steve Bould - is on the brink of a three-match ban after picking up four cautions in seven Premiership games. Another booking against West Ham tonight would bring that suspension.

All the Dutchman would say was: "I don't think I did anything wrong and I just want to concentrate on my football."

Wenger admitted he was concerned at his side's poor disciplinary record - 82 bookings and five red cards left them bottom of the Fair Play League last season, and they have already had 18 yellow cards this season.

"I have to accept the criticism, but I don't have to agree with it, and I think everybody would agree that we're trying to play good football," he said.

Wenger, who is likely to field an unchanged side as Arsenal try to go top for the first time since last December, said: "Good football is all about the physical side - running quickly, jumping high and putting your foot in. When teams play us, like when they play Manchester United, they are all up for it and that means we're exposed to very competitive opponents. We have to resolve the problems they give us.

"So you have to fight, but you also have to respect the rules. I think we do that and the fact that the ground is always full when we play at home shows how people are judging us.

"Some of the bookings were deserved, some not. What I will do at the end of the season is sit down and analyse the bookings, see if something is wrong in our methods or our behaviour," he said.

Wenger said the only incident to alarm him against Chelsea was when Ray Parlour lashed out at Graeme Le Saux. "That was an impulsive reaction, uncontrolled rather than dangerous, but it was stupid and I have already had a word with him," he said. "That sort of thing can punish the team and you simply must master yourself."

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