Wenger would offer old rival a hand

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The Independent Online

The new rules on discussing the subject of Sir Alex Ferguson might limit what Arsène Wenger can say about his old rival, but the Arsenal manager has not yet reached the point where he will say nothing. If the Scot offers a handshake after next month's game between the two sides, then Wenger indicated yesterday that relations have not sunk to a level where he would ignore that last vestige of managerial camaraderie.

The new rules on discussing the subject of Sir Alex Ferguson might limit what Arsène Wenger can say about his old rival, but the Arsenal manager has not yet reached the point where he will say nothing. If the Scot offers a handshake after next month's game between the two sides, then Wenger indicated yesterday that relations have not sunk to a level where he would ignore that last vestige of managerial camaraderie.

Not exactly the start of an enduring friendship, but the fragile agreement between the two clubs and their respective managers not to insult each other further has held for one day of press briefings at least. As far as the handshake went, Wenger pointed out the two men shared one after the controversial match on 24 October. Although that was before Wenger's tirade at Ferguson in the Old Trafford tunnel. "Since then, for me, nothing has happened," the Frenchman said.

He meant that nothing had happened since that game for him to abandon even that one small gesture to Ferguson. Nothing apart from a week of fearsome exchanges between him and the United manager which concluded with Thursday's token agreement between the two clubs to keep the two men quiet for as long as possible. At his briefing Ferguson would not take questions on the subject. Wenger admitted he had endured "a difficult week" - "but that's because we lost on Saturday," he added.

Wenger does have some good news before tomorrow's game against Newcastle after defenders Sol Campbell and Lauren signed new two-year deals that will ease fears at the club about the amount of players reaching the ends of their contracts in the summer. "Sol's the spine of the team, especially now we are a young side and he is nearly the oldest player," Wenger said. "Sol is a guy who, when he is committed, he goes to war and that's what I respect and like."

The deal to sign Campbell is almost certain to see some reduction in his wages that were around £90,000 a week when he joined on a Bosman free transfer in 2001 from Tottenham. Arsenal were able to offer him the deal because they had been spared paying out on his transfer fee but, for his new contract, Campbell had to accept that he would not earn as much through the club's offshore system of bonus payments.

Wenger admitted that he believes Edu will leave Valencia this month but the club have signed their 20-year-old full-back Justin Hoyte on a new deal as well as the Swiss youth international Johan Djourou, 18. "I thought we made some progress with Edu, but my belief now is that he will go to a different club," Wenger said. "If I had to bet I would bet on Valencia. I am disappointed but he is free to choose and he has the opportunity to stay here. If he goes now that will change my transfer plans."

If Edu leaves then Arsenal, Wenger admitted, will have to buy an experienced new midfielder this month but before then the long journey to try to reduce Chelsea's 10-point lead in the Premiership starts against Newcastle. There was not quite the sense of despair after the defeat to Bolton Wanderers last weekend, but Wenger did admit he could see why some have already written off his team's title chances.

"I am not at that point, not close to it," he said. "From the outside it must seem like that. But when you lose concentration suddenly you are in the middle of the table. You have to take it as a challenge. OK, Chelsea are playing well and winning games, let's make it as tough as we can for them and take it as a challenge.

"They have a difficult programme and football is surprising - what looks like an invulnerable machine becomes vulnerable in one week."

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