Paul Merson has admitted he is heartbroken at Arsenal's decision to sell him to first division Middlesbrough for £4.5million.
The England midfielder, who has been at Highbury since he was a 14-year-old schoolboy, is wanted by Bryan Robson to replace Brazilian star Juninho and is poised to sign a five-year deal. But Merson, who is back at his best after undergoing treatment for alcoholism, is devastated that the club want to get rid of him. "I thought I would end my career at Arsenal. When they said I could leave I felt terrible," he told the News of the World.
The news was delivered to Merson by Gunners manager Arsene Wenger yesterday. The Frenchman has made several major signings in the close season and feels he can do without Merson, one of the fans' favourite players. Merson said: "Arsene Wenger came to me and said 'We have been offered £4.5million for you'. "I asked Arsene 'Aren't you going to try to keep me?' and he just said 'No'. He kept saying it was a lot of money for a 29-year-old and he had to take it. "My 15 years with Arsenal was over in 15 minutes. I felt terrible. They didn't make any effort to keep me."
Despite the bumper financial package luring Merson to Teesside, it is a major surprise to see the Londoner drop down from the Premiership when he is at the peak of his career. But Merson, who has won the league championship, FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup with Arsenal, insists he is looking forward to the Middlesbrough challenge.
"I've got ability and I think Boro fans will know they've got a good buy," he said. "I've played for England and know what it takes to succeed and I'm confident I can get Boro up." Merson, his wife Lorraine and their three sons will make a complete break with London and move north.
Dennis Bergkamp has cushioned the blow for Arsenal fans with a contract extension which should keep the 28-year-old Dutch international in north London for the rest of his career.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger's summer spending has now gone through the £10million mark following the signing of 26-year-old French defenders Emmanuel Petit and Gilles Grimandi earlier this month.
Wenger, who paraded Petit as well at Highbury today, also announced the signing of Alberto Mendez-Rodriguez, a 22-year-old midfielder from German fifth division side FC Feucht.
And the Gunners boss promised: "It's not all over yet. I might still bring in one, or a maximum two, players before the start of the season. "I want players who are used to winning things and familiar with the pressures of a big club. Marc (Overmars) is a class player and has the best four or five years of his career ahead of him.''
Overmars said: "I have won prizes with Ajax and I want to continue doing so with Arsenal. I like what I have seen of the Premiership. I can see there might be a little more freedom for me to use my speed to get into the spaces.''
The Dutchman missed out on a second successive Champions' League final and Euro 96 last summer because of a cruciate ligament injury sustained in December 1995. But despite being out of action for over six months last year, he is confident that he will prove a big success in the Premiership. "There are no problems anymore. I just had to be very strong. It takes time, but you must not be afraid,'' said Overmars on ClubCall. However, the injury probably cost him an earlier move to Arsenal, as he revealed: "I think about six or seven months ago things started moving very slowly. But I also talked to Arsenal about two years ago and every year I have kept in contact with them.''
Overmars was also a key member of the Ajax side who lost the Champions' League semi-final to Juventus in April and he is determined to make an impression in the League with his new club. Arsenal are in the UEFA Cup next season, but the Dutchman is targeting a quick return to the Champions' League. "It is a pity we are not playing in the Champions' League, but I hope we can play there next season,'' he said. "My feelings are very good about this side - they have some experienced players aged about 30, but also some 25 or 26 and some 18, 19 and 20. They are building a very good side.
Arsene Wenger has called a press conference at Highbury today at 2:00pm. It is widely expected that he will be announcing the purchase of Marc Overmars for £7 million and Luis Boamorte for £1.7 million.
The internet is a hubbub of activity as Arsenal supporters worldwide await the announcement with baited breath (and plenty of nail-biting).
This press conference has been announced on both IRN News and Sky News. As soon as further information is available, I'll keep you all updated.
The press conference did indeed announce the purchase of Marc Overmars. His 5 year contract will cost in the region of £7 million with a reputed weekly wage of £20,000 as expected.
Manchester United be warned!!!!! You may be challenged this year for the championship. "IT'S UP FOR GRABS.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has gone back to his former club Monaco to complete a double Highbury swoop of ex-proteges.
The Gunners today confirmed the signings of left-sided Emmanuel Petit and central defender Gilles Grimandi.
Neither Arsenal nor Monaco would disclose the fees, but with 26-year-old Petit rated in the £3million bracket it is believed that Wenger has paid around £5million for the pair.
French international Petit was a target for Arsenal's north London rivals Tottenham early last season.
The versatile Petit, who has 15 caps but is out of current French boss Aime Jacquet's immediate plans, can play either at the back or in midfield.
His first-team debut came as an 18-year-old in 1988, the second year of Wenger's eight-year spell in charge of the principality club. Grimandi, also 26, was signed by Wenger from FC Gap in 1990.
Both Petit and Grimandi were prominent as Monaco ended Newcastle's UEFA Cup hopes at the quarter-final stage in March.
The double capture strengthens the Gallic influence at Highbury. Wenger was instrumental in the signings of Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde and also picked up teenage sensation Nicolas Anelka at the end of last term.
And it shows that Wenger is thinking of dismantling the most long-serving and successful defensive line-up in the country.
Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn have been mainstays of the Highbury back-line for nine seasons, and although Winterburn and Bould have agreed new deals it is clear that Wenger is making long-term plans for change.
Wenger is also reported to be close to a deal that would bring flying Dutchman Marc Overmars to the club.
The French coach watched the £5million-rated winger in action for Ajax last weekend before returning to his native land to clinch today's twin deal and watch the four-nation Tournoi de France.
The 10ft by 8ft work in oils, The Art of the Game, shows the French footballer in a red robe emerging from a tomb. It was inspired by a 15th-century painting, The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesca.
Alex Ferguson, United's manager, is depicted in the work as Julius Caesar. Some of the team's other players, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Phil and Gary Neville, are shown as sleeping soldiers.
Michael Browne, the artist, said: "It was my idea to do it. I bumped into Eric in a restaurant and asked him what he thought. He liked the idea and then he and the others posed for photos which I used to complete the painting."
Mr Brown, 34, said his ideas were developed from two Renaissance paintings. "He is not supposed to be Christ. I think most people will see it as tongue-in-cheek, as it is supposed to be."
The Rev Philip Hacking, chairman of the council of the evangelical Reform Group, criticised the adulation of sports and pop stars. "I get distressed that sometimes we talk about them as if they were gods."
The Rev John Richardson, chaplain of the University of East London, another member of the Reform Group, said the picture was "a bit of a cheek". He said: "For some people it will be hurtful for a footballer to be seen as Jesus."
But the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Christopher Mayfield, said he did not find the work offensive. "This is a humorous painting which should be taken at face value," he said.
Cantona, who paid an undisclosed sum for the work, preferred not to be photographed beside it at the unveiling at Manchester's City Art Galleries yesterday. Neither would he comment on the work.
Mr Ferguson said he could not see why the painting was considered to be controversial. "I think it shows the part that footballers play in people's lives in modern times," he said. "They are people's heroes." David Beckham, one of the players in the picture, described it as magnificent.
The painting will be on display to the public until April 27 when it passes to its new owner.
Arsenal therefore stay above Liverpool in second place in the Premiership keeping our European Championship hopes alive.
"I know that Arsenal are interested in me and the idea of going back to live in London is very exciting, even if there have been offers from other clubs." - Paul Ince today.
Ince is expected to formally announce that he is coming to THOF after the birth of his second child in three weeks (subject to the quirks of nature!).
Fee is allegedly 8m, and subject to Ince's pay demands fitting in with Wenger's new pay structure. (Bergkamp at the top of the tree on 50k per week - allegedly)
John Hartson completed his £5million record move to West Ham from Arsenal today and pledged: "I'm determined to score the goals that will keep my new club in the Premier League."
Hammers gave the big Welshman a five-year contract just 10 days after signing Paul Kitson from Newcastle in a £2.3million move and both will make their debuts in the vital relegation clash with Derby at the Baseball Ground tomorrow.
It is a shock move for Hartson, leaving Arsenal with only two senior strikers at Highbury in Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp, but in the end the Gunners received an offer they could not refuse, with manager Arsene Wenger collecting more cash for his own forays into the transfer market.
Hartson said: "I've had a great two years with Arsenal and it's always a wrench to leave a big club like that but I think West Ham has a great future and I want to be part of it. "Obviously I'm confident the club can stay in the Premier League and I know it's down to me to get the goals to make it happen. That's all I'm thinking about at the moment and I can't wait to get started for my new club."
West Ham manager Peter Storrie said: "We think we've pulled off a tremendous signing but it has taken long, hard weeks of negotiation with Arsenal who have been magnificent in their care and attention.
"In the end it is a somewhat complicated deal with the money we pay linked to John's appearances, his goals and all sorts of other things but it will be around £5million and we think it is going to be great value."
John Hartson could be the surprise new name on West Ham's wanted list just days after they signed Paul Kitson from Newcastle.
Big Welsh centre forward Hartson has the power and physical presence to match the requirements of Hammers boss Harry Redknapp, who has promised another transfer market raid.
Hartson's name is being bandied about at Upton Park even though Gunners boss Arsene Wenger short on strikers himself at Highbury would cause a major surprise if he let the 21-year-old former Luton target-man go at this crucial stage of the title-race.
Wenger awarded Hartson a long-term contract only a few weeks ago, but things could change if, as widely speculated, the Frenchman is preparing the way for another star import at Arsenal to boost their challenge for the title.
He has already secured the free-transfer, under Bosman rules, of teenaged striker Nicolas Anelka from Paris St German, although the player cannot join Arsenal until his contract with the French club expires in June.
But with Arsenal out of the FA Cup after Tuesday's fourth round defeat by Leeds, Wenger has a clear week before their next League game against Spurs to pursue several likely targets in Europe.
He also has a growing worry over Hartson's disciplinary record, with the player soon to start his third suspension of the season having been booked 11 times plus a sending-off against Middlesbrough on New Year's Day.
It would still need a West Ham bid of at least the £2.5million which former Highbury chief George Graham paid Luton for Hartson two years ago to even make Arsenal take notice.
Hammers' managing director Peter Storrie insists: "All the names being mentioned in connection with us are no more than speculation."
But he added: "We hope to have some more positive transfer news after the weekend. We have already tabled another bid and will be in negotiations with a certain club about a player, but I'm not at liberty to say who it is."
FA Challenge Cup Draw Fourth Round sponsored by Littlewoods Pools Peterborough v Wrexham or West Ham Charlton or Newcastle v Nottm Forest Blackburn v Coventry or Woking Luton or Bolton v Chesterfield or Bristol City Birmingham v Stoke or Stockport QPR or Huddersfield v Barnsley or Oldham Portsmouth v Reading Carlisle or Tranmere v Sheff Wed Everton v Bradford Hednesford or York v Middlesbrough Chelsea v Liverpool Gillingham or Derby v Notts County or Aston Villa Leicester or Southend v Norwich Arsenal or Sunderland v Crystal Palace or Leeds Utd Brentford or Man City v Watford or Oxford Utd Man Utd v Crewe or Wimbledon Matches to be played Weekend of 25-26th January
David Seaman admits that breaking Scottish Bravehearts was the best moment of a year that ended in him receiving royal recognition.
The Arsenal and England goalkeeper was named an MBE in the New Year's Honours List, a fitting tribute to his superb Euro 96 displays. Penalty shoot-out heroics against Spain sent England through to the last four of a tournament in which Seaman conceded just three goals in normal play, one of them a Swiss spot-kick. His performances left many pundits and team-mates alike hailing Seaman as the finest keeper in the world, although the modest Yorkshireman does not want such labels.
But ask Seaman about the moment he remembers most from Euro 96 and sorry, Gary McAllister there is only one choice. "It's got to be the penalty save from Gary,'' said Seaman, his mind going back to the roasting hot June day when his elbow diverted the Scottish skipper's effort over the bar. "That was the special one for me because it was against Scotland. It had been a long time since we'd last played them and it meant so much. "Even when I watch it on television now I still come out in goose pimples and my hairs stand on end.''
The award ``a great end to a great year'' clearly means an enormous amount to Seaman, who returned to training for the first time in six weeks yesterday, although he is still some way off recovering from his cracked ribs.
``It's brilliant, and I'm so proud,'' said Seaman. ``I've known about it for a couple of months and I've not been able to tell anybody. That's been the hardest thing I've done all year.'' The accolades have followed Seaman since the summer; a standing ovation from the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon, cheers rather than the customary jeers from rival fans. And Seaman admits that his mind still regularly wanders back to the deeds of the summer, when Terry Venables' side were so close to Euro 96 glory.
"At the Sports Personality of the Year Awards the other week Alan Shearer said he still sings THAT song in the shower, and it's the same for me,'' Seaman added, somewhat sheepishly. "Capital Radio gave me a tape they'd put together, with Jonathan Pearce's commentary, and I still play it when I get in the car. I suppose it's a bit sad really...''
IAN WRIGHT could have his sending-off at Nottingham Forest reduced to a booking after Stephen Lodge, the referee at Saturday's game, agreed to view a video of the controversial incident.
However, if the red card stands and Wright collects a further caution in one of his next three games, he could face a five-match ban which would seriously hinder Arsenal's championship hopes. Wright has 18 disciplinary points from six bookings. If Saturday's dismissal is reduced to a caution, the offence is likely to be one of "adopting an aggressive attitude", which carries only a two-point punishment. It would, therefore, not take him over the 21-point barrier. If the red card stands, though, one more caution against Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa or Middlesbrough could take him over the limit, adding a two-match ban to the three-game suspension for the dismissal.
Wright recently survived a charge of disrepute after the Football Association agreed to take no action over allegations that he insulted Sheffield Wednesday manager David Pleat.
Now the Premiership's leading scorer could earn another reprieve if Lodge decides to alter his decision to dismiss Wright for pushing Forest's Nikola Jerkan.
The FA have also sent a copy of the video to the ref- eree's assistant, John Holbrook, who drew Lodge's attention to the incident.
Lodge confirmed he had dismissed Wright for violent conduct, which carries an automatic three-match ban, but agreed to look at the incident again. "I did not see the incident involving Wright but my assistant did and I am prepared to view the incident," said Lodge.
A spokesman for the FA said: "Arsenal have submitted their evidence and we are sending the video on to both the referee and his assistant to make their observations."
Recently Arsenal asked for a video of Tony Adams' sending-off at Newcastle to be submitted to referee Graham Barber but the FA refused. They have been more sympathetic this time, suggesting the London club have a case.
Arsenal have been given an unlikely boost before their game at Nottingham Forest on Saturday with the return of Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp from injury.
The Dutchman's return is a timely relief for the Gunners who will be missing skipper Tony Adams and midfield ace Patrick Vieira because of suspension for the visit to the City Ground. Bergkamp has trained all week after injury and is fit and ready to go. He is likely to go staright into the side along with midfielder Ray Parlour.
Bergkamp's striking partner Ian Wright, meanwhile, is preparing for a tough battle at bottom of the table Forest, who were today plunged into deeper trouble with the resignation of manager Frank Clark.
Wright said: "It's always hard when we go there but we are going there not to lose. We'll be happy to get three points from them at the moment.''
The striker has been enjoying one of his best scoring periods of his career for the Gunners but he is happy to swap the goals for some success.
He revealed: ``I just want to score as many as I can but I also want to win something. "If we don't win anything, it won't mean as much to me.''
The Football Association investigation into the racism row between Ian Wright and Peter Schmeichel has been put on hold for a week because of Manchester United's Champions' League commitments.
Schmeichel and Wright were originally given until today to respond to an FA letter inviting their observations on an incident during United's 1-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford last month. But the FA have agreed to Schmeichel's request to put the deadline back to next Thursday because of United's Champions' League clash at Rapid Vienna last night.
Television pictures appeared to show the Dane mouthing a racial insult in response to Wright's late challenge in the Premiership match.
Wright and Arsenal team-mate Nigel Winterburn will be at Lancaster Gate tomorrow for separate disciplinary hearings in which they will answer disrepute charges arising from the Gunners' 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in September. Wright responded to an accusation from Wednesday boss David Pleat that he pulled Dutch winger Regi Blinker's dreadlocks during the game by calling Pleat a ``pervert''.
Winterburn was charged with making `V' signs to Wednesday fans after the second of Arsenal's goals.
Arsenal striker Ian Wright has been let off with a warning from the Football Association over his disparaging remarks about Sheffield Wednesday manager David Pleat, reports the Press Association.
Wright, who has already apologized to Pleat after allegedly calling him "a pervert'', was up before the FA's disciplinary panel today in London. But FA spokesman Steve Double said today: ``There will be no further action. Ian Wright has been warned as to his future conduct and must be careful about what he says in the future.''
Arsenal full-back Nigel
Winterburn also escaped punishment after appearing before a Football Association disciplinary hearing on a misconduct charge, reports the Press Association.
Disabled supporters of Sheffield Wednesday had claimed that he made obscene gestures to them during the match at Highbury in September, but FA spokesman Steve Double said: "It was not proven to the commission's satisfaction that any misconduct took place.'' Winterburn said afterwards: ``I'm very pleased with what's happened today. Obviously I've been cleared of all charges. "I don't want to say what happened in there because it's personal, but it is sufficient to say that I've been cleared.
"I always said there was nothing more in it. Now all I want to do is concentrate on our game against Derby tomorrow.
Arsenal's England goalkeeper David Seaman could still be out for a month after cracking his ribs for the third time in his Highbury career.
Manager Arsene Wenger is fast losing hope that Seaman will be able to face Tottenham in the north London derby at Highbury on Sunday. But the Gunners place such store on the presence of their brilliant 33-year-old keeper that he may still be given the opportunity to defy the pain for a crucial 90 minutes. Wenger admitted: ``I am pessimistic at the moment. He has had x-rays but the full extent of the injury is still not clear. "I would say that now the odds are against him playing against Tottenham. The problem is that he is in pain. He does not feel well. "But we have an extra 24 hours because the game is being played on a Sunday and we will wait as long as we can to see how he feels then. I would only want him to play if he felt 100%.''
Arsenal are furious over the clash with Manchester United's Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that crocked Seaman late in the game which they lost 1-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday. A team-mate said: ``Ian Wright was booked for a challenge on United's Peter Schmeichel which didn't even make contact with the goalkeeper, but later David Seaman got an elbow in the ribs and the referee did nothing.'' Seaman played out the rest of the game after treatment on the pitch but has not trained this week.
It means that John Lukic, who returned to Highbury from Leeds on a free transfer in the summer and has deputised twice this season when the England star had hamstring trouble, looks certain to take over again against Spurs. Yet Seaman has twice before battled through the agony of a similar injury to play in vital games for Arsenal. He had eight pain-killing injections to get him through the European Cup-Winners' Cup final against Parma in Copenhagen in May 1994. And he also played in a specially-designed body-protector against Auxerre in the quarter-finals of the same competition in March last year after missing the two previous League games and then three more afterwards. Arsenal won both Euro ties 1-0.
But his latest injury is a massive blow to Arsenal with a series of major games coming up. After the Spurs clash they visit Liverpool in the fourth round of the Coca-Cola Cup next Wednesday and are then away to Premiership leaders Newcastle the following Saturday.
Highbury physio Gary Lewin said: ``The problem with this kind of injury is that there is no real treatment. All we can do is help make David feel as comfortable as possible and let time take its course.''
Like team-mate Paul Merson and now Rangers' midfielder Paul Gascoigne, he is undergoing counseling, meeting his therapist last Monday before the squad flew out to Tblisi. Adams has also battled back from a serious knee injury which forced him to miss the first seven games of Arsenal's troubled season but his return to fitness has been one of the reasons behind their continued presence among the top clubs of the Premiership.
Hoddle had plenty of candidates to stand in for Shearer, including Stuart Pearce, Gareth Southgate, David Seaman, Paul Ince and long-time skipper David Platt.
But this is a game which could call for raw courage and no one is better at manning the trenches than Adams.
Terry Venables recognized that by making Adams captain for the first time against Romania two years ago and again for four games at the start of last season when Platt was injured. And, when it came to the crunch in this summer's European Championship finals, Venables turned back to the Titanic centre-half, giving him the armband for a full five games in the near glorious run to the semi-finals where England lost on penalties to Germany.
That experience sent Adams, who had shown great self-discipline over the preceding months, back to the bottle but he quickly realized he had to face up to his problems - and the way he is beating them has earned everybody's admiration.
Hoddle announced the decision before training today but will not reveal the rest of his line-up until just before kick-off tomorrow.
TONY ADAMS, who has missed England's two opening 1998 World Cup qualifying ties through injury, is in line to regain the captaincy against Georgia in Tbilisi on Nov 9 because Alan Shearer will be out for two months after a groin operation. Adams led England during Euro 96 but a recurrence of a knee problem sidelined the Arsenal defender for the opening games of the new season. In his absence, coach Glenn Hoddle named Shearer as England captain.
Adams is the leading candidate, but Stuart Pearce, of Nottingham Forest, is his main rival. It is likely to be a temporary appointment until Shearer is fit again but it would be the ideal boost for Adams, who has also admitted to problems with alcohol in recent weeks.
Shearer had the operation yesterday and, looking on the bright side, hopes to be back in six weeks. "It looks likely I will miss four Premiership games and the England match in Georgia," said Shearer, who had a similar operation at the end of last season to ensure his fitness for England's Euro 96 campaign. "I had the original operation in May on my left groin and was back playing for England in just over four weeks. I felt twinges three or four weeks ago and visited the specialist, who confirmed I had a similar problem with my right groin, which apparently is not unusual in these cases."
Shearer and Newcastle hoped he could continue until the end of the season and undergo close-season surgery. But, Shearer said, "the pain has been getting worse and was really bad during and after the Manchester United game".
Even while less than 100 per cent fit Shearer has scored eight goals to help Newcastle to the top of the Premiership following last Sunday's 5-0 demolition of Manchester United.
ARSENAL midfielder David Hillier is poised for a move to First Division PORTSMOUTH for 500,000 pounds ($750,000), reports Sky News. The 26-year-old, who will become the first player to leave the Gunners since the arrival of new manager Arsene Wenger at Highbury, has had talks with Pompey and the two clubs have agreed the fee.
Arsenal are set to raid the Football Association's Press Office to try and repair the club's battered image.
Clare Tomlinson, 28, the "media relations officer'' at Lancaster Gate is likely to be appointed head of communications at Highbury this week following the north London giant's months of turmoil.
The Arsenal board believe the sacking of Bruce Rioch, revelations of Tony Adams' drink problems and Stewart Houston's walk-out did untold damage to the club's worldwide reputation during the chaotic early season. Those events are now behind them but they are determined that the club is never exposed to such ridicule again.
Clare has worked in football ever since she left Leeds University with a degree in 1990. Ironically, she had a big involvement in both the Paul Merson and George Graham affairs as a member of the FA Press Office controlled by media chief David Davies. After she went to Lancaster Gate in October 1994, she developed a media strategy for England's youngsters, looking after the national school at Lilleshall, the youth teams and the Under-21s. She became an integral member of the Euro 96 team and has been a full-time member of the senior set-up travelling recently to Moldova for England's 3-0 victory in their first World Cup group match.
A former colleague, who used to work with her at the FA, said: "She is very knowledgable about the game. Everybody respects her for the depth of the detail she knows about football. "She's a tremendous gifted communicator who seems to be able to get on with everybody in football at all levels.''
Before joining the FA, Clare worked at the Football Trust and engineered the public awareness of the massive rebuilding of English football in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. She is known for having been, in the past, a keen fan of Arsenal's north London rivals Tottenham.