Arsenal set to make Henry best-ever five-year offer

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Just days after Thierry Henry invited the Arsenal board to offer a lucrative new contract by stating his desire to remain at the club, Peter Hill-Wood, the chairman, has paved the way for a five-year deal that would make the striker the club's best-paid player in history.

Henry, who had been widely linked with a move to the Spanish champions, Barcelona, announced at the weekend his wish to spearhead Arsenal's new era as they leave Highbury for the 60,000-seat Ashburton Grove stadium at the end of the season.

Hill-Wood wants to seize the day. "Now Thierry has made his mind up about his future there is no point hanging around," Hill-Wood said. "Talks will start soon - very soon. He is 28 and is in tremendous shape, so a five-year deal would not be out of the question.

"We know Thierry could earn more elsewhere but we'll go to the limit where his salary is concerned. But he is very loyal."

Hill-Wood also feels that Henry's commitment will allow the manager, Arsène Wenger, who oversaw the French forward's transition from winger to lethal marksman after buying Henry from Juventus for £10.5m in 1999, to attract better players as he attempts to build a new generation of title challengers.

"It will show people that we are indeed ambitious and want to keep our best players," Hill-Wood said. "That can only help when we want to bring in new ones."

Wenger echoed Hill-Wood's sentiment, saying, "I always felt that, once he had made his mind up, the situation should be sorted out quite quickly. That's my desire now because, the longer it lasts, it is not good for the club and for the team. That, again, doesn't depend only on me - it depends on the negotiations and when he will be ready to sign."

Henry is likely to want assurances from Arsenal over moves to strengthen their squad, both in the January transfer window and at the end of this season.

Wenger, meanwhile, also said he expects to resolve the futures of Jens Lehmann - who only a year ago was deemed so unreliable he was being linked with a move away from the club - and Robert Pires, who are both out of contract at the end of this season. Pires has also been connected with a move abroad, to Turkey in particular.

Wenger said: "Jens should be sorted out in January. We've played so many games and I don't find the time to talk to players at the moment. We'll have a chat with him and Robert next week."