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Football: Wenger's 'Arthur Daley' role as United's cash starts to talk.

Byline: Mark Bradley

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he will have to be a magician in the transfer market this summer as he aims to stop Manchester United dominating the Premiership with their financial might.

Wenger's dreams of becoming the main force in English football for the next decade look rather overly optimistic after the title was conceded to Old Trafford and his own club's financial woes became starkly apparent.

Arsenal are simply dwarfed by United's financial muscle and while Wenger is expecting Sir Alex Ferguson to invest a further pounds 30 million this summer - without even selling David Beckham - he is working to a budget of about pounds 10 million.

Wenger is, therefore, looking to become the 'Arthur Daley' of the Premiership, by wheeling and dealing in the market, albeit hopefully with rather more success than the fictional television entrepreneur.

Even he says that Arsenal simply cannot afford to lose any leading player on a free transfer, giving added importance to ongoing contract talks with Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires.

However, Wenger's one hope for bridging the financial gulf with United is that the depressed transfer market should mean there are some bargains available.

While he may have to spend most of his budget on a commanding centre-back, such as Phillipe Mexes, Phillipe Christanval, Kevin Hofland, John Terry or William Gallas, he could make savings elsewhere.

Wenger has picked up Swiss teenage defender Philippe Senderos while he is surely more likely to sign Marcos at pounds 2.4 million or Rustu Reber on a Bosman free transfer than Paul Robinson as his new goalkeeper.

Any other signings would be a bonus, with only Kanu or Francis Jeffers likely to bring in any revenue in the other direction, although he could snap up Michael Carrick if West Ham are relegated.

Wenger, whose record signing is Sylvain Wiltord at pounds 12 million, said: 'The most important thing is to keep the players I have as I have faith in them, then strengthen the squad if I can.

'It may be considered a disaster at this club to finish second, but it's not too bad as we have a 50 per cent less budget than United.

'Will the financial gap get any bigger? I don't know yet, but I hope we find a magician. Even Uri Geller couldn't do it.'

Wenger has a superb record of signing midfielders and strikers in cut-price deals before transforming their careers, as Henry and Vieira bear witness.

However, his record with defenders is largely poor, apart from Sol Campbell. Arsenal have not brought through enough players from their academy.

CAPTION(S):

Rustu Reber is a free transfer target for Arsene Wenger
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 6, 2003
Words:447
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