Arsenal profiting from Wenger's business sense

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The Independent Football

Arsenal fans may not see it that way, but the £32m deal that takes Marc Overmars andEmmanuel Petit to Barcelona represents another coup for the club - and one they could not refuse.

Arsenal fans may not see it that way, but the £32m deal that takes Marc Overmars andEmmanuel Petit to Barcelona represents another coup for the club - and one they could not refuse.

Although Overmars' price tag is popularly quoted as £7m, he cost just £5.5m when signed from Ajax in the summer of 1997 while Arsenal also recruited the versatile Gilles Grimandi as part of the deal when Petit was snapped up from Monaco for £3.5m.

On top of the £22.5m the club received last summer from Real Madrid for Nicolas Anelka - who cost only a £500,000 settlement fee when he left Paris St-Germain for Highbury in February 1997 - this is another windfall for the Gunners, produced by the eye for talent of their manager,Arsÿne Wenger, and the business brain of the club's vice-chairman, David Dein.

Yet before yesterday, Wenger was actually in the red on his transfer dealings over four years at Highbury even though he has sold more players than he has brought in. Although Arsenal rarely reveal the prices they pay, it seems likely they have sanctioned fees for 25 signings under Wenger for a total of around £58m while selling more than 30 players for a combined income of approximately £77m, including Overmars and Petit.

Though Wenger will not be happy to see the pair go, he has already had the best out of the volatile Petit, who will be 30 in September and was with Wenger for seven years at Monaco, while Overmars, at 27, has been dogged by ankle problems for almost two seasons.

Wenger snapped up the Dutchman when others doubted the winger's ability to fully recover from a career-threatening knee injury while at Ajax. As with Anelka, the Arsenal manager would have liked to keep Overmars for at least one more season, but has already bought another French Euro 2000 star, Robert Pires from Marseilles, as a replacement.

The trick for Wenger, who has also brought in Cameroon's midfielder Lauren from Real Mallorca, of Spain, for around £7m, is to keep spotting the talent he can bring to Highbury for what he calls "a reasonable price" and still maintain Arsenal's challenge to Manchester United. Wenger has always said that when he leaves Highbury - and he has two years remaining on his current contract - he will leave Arsenal in better financial shape than he found them.

Time and again he has refused to break the salary structure at Highbury - even though, inevitably, it has become much more flexible over the past few years - or to pay over the odds for a player he values. Once the asking price of £18m for PSV Eindhoven's Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was established last season, Wenger dropped out of the race and left it to Manchester United. And Wenger has not hesitated to sell popular players if he believed the deal was right.

Wenger must also admit to a few failures, such as Luis Boa Morte, the Portuguese winger who arrived for £2.5m from Sporting Lisbon and was sold for around half that figure to Southampton last season. Oleg Luzhny, £2m from Dynamo Kiev and Stefan Malz, £650,000 from Munich 1860, are still trying to establish themselves in the squad while Christopher Wreh, £400,000 from Monaco, and the defender Nelson Vivas, £1.6m from Lugano, still remain at the club but were farmed out on loan last season.

Wenger's successes, however, still outweigh his failures, with Patrick Vieira, his first Arsenal signing at £3.5m from Milan, and Thierry Henry, a £10m misfit at Juventus but a phenomenal scorer for the Gunners last season. For managers as shrewd as Wenger, success need not come at any cost.