Wenger puts faith in Vieira to sign new Arsenal deal

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, expects Patrick Vieira to be fit for the start of the season, by which time he believes the midfielder will have signed a new contract with the club.

The Arsenal captain missed the end of last season because of a knee injury, which he then aggravated over the summer, requiring him to have surgery. Wenger, however, is hopeful the French international will be fit to play a part in the friendlies against Celtic, on Saturday, and Rangers, three days later, before starting the Community Shield against Manchester United on 10 August.

By then, according to a deadline Vieira has set himself, the Frenchman will have agreed a new contract. Vieira, who was expected to return to training yesterday, has one year left on his existing deal and Arsenal are desperate to prevent him leaving on a Bosman free transfer next summer.

"We will need to see Patrick, but the news from France where he has had three weeks of hard work after the operation is very positive," Wenger said. "I am looking for him to perhaps play one half against Celtic. As for his contract, I am confident he will sign before the start of the season."

Retaining Vieira at Highbury has effectively been Wenger's top priority this summer, but Wenger must now also contend with injuries to Martin Keown and Philippe Senderos who missed Tuesday's 1-0 friendly win over Besiktas in Austria. Keown hopes to recover from a groin injury in time to face Celtic and Rangers, but Senderos, 18, is due to have a scan on a damaged calf muscle.

On a more positive note, Wenger has been impressed with the form of Kolo Touré, Jermaine Pennant and Dennis Bergkamp, and he was also encouraged by his new signing, Jens Lehmann, and Stuart Taylor who shared the goalkeeping duties against the Turkish side.

"Lehmann did not have a lot to do, but he was calm, his distribution was good and he has a good presence in goal," Wenger said. "He is a quiet and intelligent man, so at the moment he is just trying to learn."

Wenger added that while Lehmann is his first choice, he is pleased withTaylor's progress. "At the start of the season Lehmann has the advantage, but it is down to Stuart as well, and every season he makes a step forward," Wenger said. "Stuart has a presence about him he did not have two or three years ago and you could see that in the second half against Besiktas.

"The next few seasons will be very, very important for Stuart. It will give him the time to gain his position or to be ready after Lehmann's spell."

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