Football: Arsenal to test Anelka's claims

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The Independent Online
ARSENAL INTEND to send their own medical team to France to assess Nicolas Anelka after they received a doctor's certficate from Paris saying that the unsettled striker is unfit to play.

The Gunners want to test the assertion that the protracted negotiations and subsequent deadlock over his desired transfer to Lazio has left Anelka too stressed and depressed to consider returning to London. Arsenal are determined to win their battle with a player who is contracted to them and to avoid becoming embroiled in the kind of stand-off that eventually led to Paolo Di Canio leaving Sheffield Wednesday for West Ham or Pierre van Hooijdonck sitting out most of Nottingham Forest's season-long stay in the Premiership.

Even if Anelka does leave, Arsenal want to control when he goes. The club blocked his move to Italy after settling for a pounds 22m fee with Lazio, because the 20-year-old failed to agree on personal terms before the Tuesday deadline they set.

However, Arsenal's demand that he return to the club for pre-season training clearly appealed to Anelka's sense of humour. "It's comical," he was quoted as saying in an interview published in the French newspaper Le Parisien. "I think they'll be waiting for me for a long time."

He was also quoted as saying: "I'm fine. I'm calm", a comment that sits strangely alongside the medical assessment of him as stressed and distressed.

He added: "Tonight I am going to play a match with some friends on a field near my house. Actually this break from soccer will be good for me. I've recharged my batteries for this season which looks like being a long one."

Kick-abouts with friends could be his only football for a while if he carries out his reported threat to go on strike if he does not get his own way, escape his Arsenal contract and join Lazio. Anelka's representatives, the licensed French agent Marc Rogetand his older brothers Claude and Didier, insist that he will strike unless his move to Lazio goes through.

If he did and Arsenal's own medical team reported Anelka fit to train and play, one option for the North London club would be to withhold his pounds 18,000 a weeksalary while retaining his registration. In those cirumstanmces, Arsenal would almost certainly then face a legal test of their case.

It was Arsenal who set the deadline for Anelka to complete the deal and Lazio say they are still hoping to complete the signing. However, Italian sources suggest that Claude Anelka has been given until tomorrow to settle on a fresh agreeement with Arsenal. Lazio originally offered to raise their initial pounds 18m offer by around pounds 4m only if Anelka was prpepared to reduce his previously-agreed pay demands by the same amount. The original agreement was reportedly for Anelka to be paid pounds 56,000 a week in a four- year contract.

Now another Italian club, Parma, are believed to be considering making an approach for the striker, although Anelka has insisted that Lazio is the only club he now wants to join.

Whatever happens Anelka is unlikely to be welcomed back to Highbury. Arsenal may be insisting that he honour his contract, but Anelka, who often complained of unfair treatment by the British media, has made himself unpopular with Gunners fans and it is difficult to see him being able to rejoin the side after some of the things he has said about his team- mates.