Arsenal set sights on Latvian play-off hero

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The Independent Football

Arsenal are set to sign Maris Verpakovskis, the striker whose goals helped Latvia defeat Turkey in their Euro 2004 play-off last week, with a £1m deal close to being finalised with his club, Skonto Riga.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, is in talks with the small but pacy striker, who has scored regularly for Latvia during their successful European Championship qualifying campaign. As well as hitting the target twice against the Turks - scoring the only goal in the 1-0 win in Riga and hitting the equaliser in the 2-2 draw in Istanbul - he struck twice in the 3-1 win over Hungary in September and followed that up with the winner as Latvia beat Sweden in Stockholm last month.

The fee is within Arsenal's modest transfer budget and he will become the second Latvian player to be signed by Wenger for Arsenal, the defender Igor Stepanovs - currently on loan at the Belgian club Beveren - joining the Gunners three years ago.

Graeme Souness, the Blackburn Rovers manager, is also looking to add to his squad when the transfer window opens in January, and yesterday he fielded the Romanian striker Adrian Ilie in a training match behind closed doors. Ilie, a free agent after leaving the Spanish side Alaves, turned out in a private match at Blackburn's Brockhall training ground and may be handed a contract for the rest of the season.

The 29-year-old, nicknamed "The Cobra", was in the Romania side which beat England at both the 1998 World Cup finals and Euro 2000. Ilie left Alaves in the summer when they were relegated, but has previously played for Valencia and Galatasaray.

The Bolton Wanderers manager, Sam Allardyce, hopes to sign the Russian international defender Viktor Onopko on a free transfer. The 34-year-old captain of the Euro 2004 finalists, who impressed in their play-off victory over Wales last week, wants to move to England and Allardyce is prepared to sign him until the end of the season. Onopko is at Alania Vladikavkaz, but he can leave the Russian club for nothing in January.

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