Reyes eager to open new chapter at Arsenal

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The Independent Football

Manchester United may have landed Luis Saha and Chelsea may have finally prised away Scott Parker, but, of the three Premiership big hitters, Arsenal are convinced that they have acquired by far the best signing of the transfer window, which slams shut on Monday.

Jose Antonio Reyes, dubbed a cross between Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney with better technique and more acceleration than the pair of them, was officially unveiled yesterday as Arsène Wenger's new secret weapon with a promise that, given time, he will repay the massive outlay, eventually rising to about £17m, that his new club have invested to import him from La Liga.

Flanked by Wenger and David Dein, the vice-chairman, as he emerged blinking into a phalanx of light bulbs after a roller-coaster 48 hours, the most expensive player in Arsenal's history looked somewhat bemused as he faced the English media for the first time.

Aided by a translator, he of course said all the right things as he looked ahead to a new career after leaving the club he had loved "with all my heart". Reyes admitted that he spoke next to no English, but hoped he would do his talking with his highly prized feet, wearing the No 9 shirt last worn by the luckless Francis Jeffers. "The most important thing is that the manager feels confident in me," Reyes said.

He could make his debut in Sunday's Premiership game against Manchester City, if his international clearance arrives in time.

"I'm joining one of the best clubs in Europe. I don't know how long it will take me to adapt, but I do know I have to do it as soon as possible. When I run out on the pitch, everything will be OK," he said.

Such confidence from one so young. But then Reyes is no ordinary 20-year-old. This season, he cut Real Madrid's defence to shreds in a 4-1 win for Seville. So desperate were his fans when they learned of Reyes' departure that they almost broke into the office where the deal was being struck. When he left, they sprayed obscene graffiti about the Seville president around the town.

"I felt I was in the middle of a riot zone," Dein said. "There were extraordinary scenes, almost frightening. There were hundreds of people chanting Jose's name and thumping on the car doors trying to stop us moving. It was a very dramatic experience."

"The negotiations started in June, and at that time the door was closed. But things fell into place when we went back. There wasn't too much speculation beforehand, which was good because that can be very damaging. We had a budget for the summer which we have now brought forward because Jose was the player who Arsène identified as his number one target. He makes very few mistakes buying and selling."

Reyes is, crucially, eligible for the Champions' League, a key factor in bringing him over now rather than in the summer. Arsenal may have gambled by putting almost their entire transfer budget into their record signing, but Wenger believes he has a diamond which, with a little polishing, will produce the same blinding sparkle as his other successes, notably Thierry Henry.

"He needs time, but he's a special player and I genuinely believe the younger you move, the more chance you have to adapt," Wenger said. "It makes you a stronger person. The language barrier is not a problem. When players are on the same wavelength, the ball is the best communicator. Jose will bring audacity and maintain our dynamic way of playing."

Wenger intends playing Reyes, a Spanish international famed for his balance, electrifying pace and prodigious technique, as a natural striker to complement Henry, though he may initially be used on the flanks, as he was in Spain.

"Wherever the manager puts me, I will play," insisted Reyes, who grew up in a small Andalucian village and signed for Seville, his home-town club, when he was only 10.

"Obviously I had mixed emotions leaving, but I am joining one of the greatest clubs in Europe," he said. "I feel I can fit in here. These opportunities don't come along very often."

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