Match of the Day pundit Martin Keown has apologised for suggesting that Arsenal players should surround the referee when a team mate has been fouled.
The former Arsenal player angered viewers when, commenting on Arsenal’s recent 1-0 win over Newcastle for the BBC show, he said that Arsenal players should “get round the referee and complain and do it together as group”.
But Keown, who is a grassroots football ambassador for McDonald's, has now retracted the statement and apologised for a comment that he says does not reflect his views on the game.
"The point I was trying to make, not very successfully, was that I was particularly annoyed with Arsenal players who didn't want to protect each other when one of them was being kicked," Keown told Club Website.
"I felt there needed to be better camaraderie between the Arsenal players in response to the Newcastle players putting in quite a few tackles on them and they were just standing around.
"The comment on the referees was unfortunate and that wasn't the point I was wishing to make at all, so I would like to retract that. If I can't, then I apologise for it."
Keown's comments sparked anger on social media, including many from the grassroots football community, who felt they set a bad example to young footballers.
The social media reaction was supported by the results of a recent Club Website poll on the issue, which found 76 percent of more than 1,000 people polled disagreed with the former Gunner's comments.
"Far be it from me not understanding the values we're trying to portray for the next generation," said the ex-England defender.
"It was something that just slipped out. Sometimes when you are doing live TV, comments come out that you're not wanting to come out.
“We do that show live. Some people think we pre-record it, but we don’t. It’s all happening in rapid quick succession, from one game to the next, so it’s sometimes hard to remember what’s said.
“It wasn’t the point that was discussed [beforehand]. We thought it was unfortunate and we might have get a chance to correct it, but it didn’t come around.”
Keown gained a reputation as a no-nonense defender in more than a decade at Arsenal which saw the club win nine major trophies. He also made 43 international appearances for England.
Now a pundit on BBC television and Radio 5 Live, Keown is also a parent to two boys who play football at grassroots level, so is aware of the importance of the FA's Respect programme across the game, he argues.
"The man in black, whether it’s on the football pitch or in the street as a policeman, has to be respected. I stress that all the time to young people. I watch my two sons on the sidelines at grassroots soccer.
"All the time, as a parent, I'm striving for the referee to be given respect, not just from the players, but from the supporters and from the parents.
“So it's not the message I was looking to convey. I was talking about Arsenal's team spirit and that I'd like them to show some spirit towards one another."
Keown was named in February as the Head of English Football at McDonald's, who support community football across the four home nations.
A McDonald's statement said: "McDonald’s is proud to be able to work with ex-Arsenal and England defender, Martin Keown. His comments on Match of the Day were his own opinion about Premier League football in discussion with other ex-football professionals, undertaken in his role as a football pundit and were not associated with or endorsed by McDonald’s.
"McDonald’s provides its full backing to the FA’s Respect campaign and our Community Football programme aims to promote inclusion and enjoyment through football."