EVEN though he has seen his captain sent off twice in the space of four matches, Steve Bruce will be telling his Sunderland players not to be afraid to bare their teeth in tomorrow’s home game with the artisans of Arsenal.

Lee Cattermole will miss the glamour encounter with the Gunners after following up his opening-day dismissal against Birmingham with another red card at Wigan, and Bruce will make a decision on the future of the captain’s armband in the middle of next week.

The Sunderland boss will not be instructing his players to go easy tomorrow though, claiming it is important to adopt a reasonably physical approach to knock Arsenal out of their stride.

The comments will not be welcomed by his opposite number, Arsene Wenger, who called for “respect of the rules” earlier this week following a tackle from Bolton defender Paul Robinson that left Abou Diaby nursing an injured ankle.

Nevertheless, having watched Arsenal wipe the floor with a Braga team that barely made a tackle in the Champions League on Wednesday night, Bruce will demand a more committed approach from his own side.

“Arsenal are fantastic to watch, and all of us in the game love to watch them play,” said the Sunderland boss. “Whether they are brittle I don’t know, but if you have to upset them and stop them playing, you do that.

“You have to stop them from playing a bit. If you are going to take them on in a football match, you might be on to a hiding. They play for Arsenal because they are all good players – arguably they’re better players than we’ve got – so you have to do something as a team to counter that.”

Quite what those spoiling tactics entail remains to be seen, but Cattermole’s toughtackling approach will undoubtedly be missed following events at the DW Stadium.

The Stockton-born midfielder was only handed the captain’s armband in the summer, but two of his first three Premier League outings as skipper have resulted in him receiving his marching orders before the half-time break.

As a result, there have been calls for Bruce to strip him of the captaincy, but rather than be rushed into a decision he might regret, the Sunderland boss will allow the dust to settle before talking things over next week.

“I am going to take my time,” said Bruce, who is also still to decide on the identity of his captain for tomorrow’s game. “I will make a decision, but I won’t be railroaded because I still hold Lee in the highest regard, even though he has let himself and his team-mates down.

“He knows he cannot play against Arsenal on Saturday, and that is upsetting him more than anything I might say. I will let him get on with it and stew for a while, and next week we will make a decision on what we are going to do.

“You have to make difficult decisions as a manager, but I try not to listen to too many opinions. And anyway, I haven’t had to say anything because there was no one more gutted than he was – you could see that from the moment he made the tackle to the moment he was sent off.”

Having invested considerable faith in Cattermole despite his suspect temperament, it seems extremely unlikely that Bruce would publicly humiliate the 22- year-old by removing the armband from his possession.

Nevertheless, two dismissals in the space of three games is a wretched record, and Bruce appears to be adopting a twin track policy in an attempt to prevent further red cards in the future.

First, the Black Cats boss is reminding Cattermole of his responsibilities and urging caution once a yellow card has been shown. Second, he is also pointing out the disparity between the hardline approach that tends to be shown to the midfielder and the leniency that is often displayed to other players in the same game.

“One statistic that is pretty alarming is that Lee only made five challenges (in the Birmingham and Wigan games), but he got four cards,” said Bruce. “There is a tendency to punish him.

“For instance, the tackle on (Ahmed) Elmohamady by (Maynor) Figueroa in the first minute (of the Wigan game) was absolutely horrific, but nothing happened. Lee shoves someone over and he gets a yellow card.

“Once he has got that yellow card, and I’ve been over this, he has to learn. But unless he is careful he will always be hounded with this reputation of being a socalled dirty player, and that’s something he’s certainly not.”

Cattermole will not be the only high-profile absentee tomorrow.

Michael Turner has been ruled out with the ankle injury sustained in the 1-0 win over Manchester City, while John Mensah has emerged as a doubt after suffering a knock in training earlier this week.