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Soccer-Arsenal poised for hammer blow after FA charges
( 2003-09-25 11:36) (Agencies)

Arsenal's season looks set to receive a hammer blow after six of their players were charged with improper conduct on Wednesday following their bad-tempered 0-0 draw at Manchester United.

 The Football Association has came down hard on keeper Jens Lehmann, Lauren, Martin Keown, Ashley Cole, skipper Patrick Vieira and Ray Parlour after Sunday's ugly scenes of United players, mainly Ruud Van Nistelrooy, being jostled.

 Punishment is likely to be particularly severe for defenders Keown and Lauren, who face additional charges -- on one and two counts respectively -- of violent behaviour.

 Fines are almost certain but, far worse for Arsenal, is the very real prospect of the FA inflicting mass suspensions that could rule out the league leaders' entire rearguard.

 Lehmann, Cole, Keown and Lauren represent four-fifths of the Arsenal defence. The fifth member, Sol Campbell, is awaiting a personal hearing after being charged with violent conduct for lashing out at United's Eric Djemba Djemba in last month's Community Shield.

 Worse still, Arsenal's defence is itself shielded by Vieira, who was red-carded at the start of Sunday's mayhem, and their other combative midfielder, Parlour, is also facing a violent behaviour charge.


 Though coach Arsene Wenger might be grateful the impending calamity is occurring at the early rather than the latter stages of the season, the effects could well be long-lasting.

 Not only could points be deducted by the FA, or dropped as Wenger turns to his reserves, but the blow to morale is likely to extend to Arsenal's already faltering Champions League campaign.

 Though domestic suspensions do not apply in Europe, the effects of any slide down the premier league table would clearly filter through to a team already in need of pulling itself together after a humiliating 3-0 home defeat by Inter Milan.

 Under new chief executive Mark Palios, the FA has made it clear that discipline in the game is a major priority and that offenders can expect to be dealt with promptly.

 The two clubs have a history of stormy encounters, which stretches back before the premier league was set up.

 In the 1990-91 season, Arsenal had two points deducted and United one point after a brawl involving their players.

 If nothing else, the likely sanctions for Sunday's clashes could finally force Arsenal to have a long, hard look at their dismal disciplinary record under Wenger, whose team have collected 52 red cards.

 Though widely admired for the fluid attacking football that has brought them three FA Cups and two league titles since 1998, those dismissals represent the darker side to Arsenal's game.

 Tackling that longstanding problem is likely to be as demanding as holding their season together in the months ahead.

 But if Sunday proved to be a turning point for the north London club, there may yet be some benefit for Wenger from a situation that is destined to get much worse before it gets better.

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