Arsenal dilemma as Real join Chelsea in chase for Vieira

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The Independent Football

Arsenal seem to be losing their battle to keep Patrick Vieira as Real Madrid yesterday joined Chelsea in the chase for the French midfielder.

Real have been alerted to the player's contract dispute at Highbury and are planning to buy him for nothing at the end of the coming season. Real's interest makes Chelsea's £20m offer more attractive as Arsenal are being pushed into a position where they face receiving nothing for one of their best players. Chelsea know they can afford Vieira now whereas the Spaniards have spent money on David Beckham and Gabriel Milito.

However, Real could be the ideal move for Vieira next summer as the Spanish champions could offer him an enormous salary, glamour and the lack of problems that a move across London would bring. Arsenal need to pin Vieira down to a new contract soon - his existing one expires next year - or face having to sell him to Chelsea by the 7 August deadline imposed by their new owner, Roman Abramovich.

Yesterday Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, said: "Our players are definitely not for sale. The situation at the moment is that Patrick has not signed, but I am confident that he will." Wenger also said he believes Dennis Bergkamp will sign a new one-year deal, probably by the end of the week.

Arsenal's transfer inactivity has mainly been due to the financial restrictions caused by their new stadium project. However, the club are determined to resist any moves by two local residents to further disrupt their plans to build a new 60,000-capacity stadium at Ashburton Grove.

The project has already been delayed, with the completion date pushed back to the start of the 2006-07 season, because of various planning issues. Now two Islington residents have enlisted the help of EarthRights Solicitors to fight Arsenal's planning permission by trying to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

They allege that the club infringed their rights under the European Convention of Human Rights by allegedly withholding information which could have altered the outcome of the planning permission request. EarthRights claim the information, some of which related to the funding of the project, was withheld from councillors in December 2001 and also from the High Court last year, when a previous legal challenge was rejected.

Charlie Hopkins, of EarthRights, said: "Even in December 2001 there was evidence that Arsenal's plans were not financially viable and this evidence should have been given to the politicians who made the decision to approve the plans."

Arsenal argue that, as they have still not finalised their financing plans, they could not have been expected to have released any more information. A club statementsaid: "The planning permission which has been granted is legally unchallengeable and therefore the outcome of any appeal to the European Court of Human Rights will have no effect on the project's progression."