Discipline problems could prove costly for Arsenal

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The Independent Online

Former Arsenal stars Alan Smith and Terry Neill have warned Arsene Wenger that the club's disciplinary problems could mean they miss out on honours this season.

Former Arsenal stars Alan Smith and Terry Neill have warned Arsene Wenger that the club's disciplinary problems could mean they miss out on honours this season.

Fredrik Ljungberg and Martin Keown were sent off in yesterday's north London derby defeat by Tottenham at White Hart Lane, making it 26 red cards for Gunners players in Wenger's three-year reign as manager.

Patrick Vieira was booked, turning his six-match suspension into a seven-game ban.

Former Highbury manager Neill, and former striker Smith fear suspensions to key players through red and yellow cards could wreck Arsenal's chances of winning the Premiership title.

"Arsenal have played some marvellous football this season and it would be a great shame if, through suspensions, they didn't achieve what they are capable of," said Neill.

"There is no doubt that losing players like Patrick Vieira will harm their chances of success.

"The vast majority of people, whether or not they are Arsenal fans, accept that on their day they are one of the best teams in the country. It is just that fine line between being competitive and just boiling over to the point of receiving cards.

"You don't win things if you are not competitive but, as I say, it is a delicate balance to get right and avoid the cards.

"Arsene Wenger has rightly defended his players when they appear to have been unlucky to be cautioned and certain situations can be appealed against."

Smith was booked just once in his glorious Gunners career - in the 1993 FA Cup final replay against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley.

That is the kind of disciplinary record Arsenal could do with today.

"It is a problem," said Smith. "The last thing they need is to lose players like Vieira through suspension.

"We have seen that without Vieira and Petit in midfield Arsenal struggle - they miss him so much.

"They look a different team with both of them in the side, which is why Arsene will be disappointed he has to lose one of them from his midfield.

"Discipline at Arsenal has been a long-standing problem. It is something which doesn't get any better."

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