Silvestre heads for Arsenal in search of new challenge

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The Independent Football

Mikael Silvestre, the French defender, last night became the first player since Brian Kidd 34 years ago to move from Manchester United to Arsenal. Silvestre, 31, signed a two-year deal for an undisclosed fee at the Emirates, ending a highly successful nine-year association with United during which he made 361 appearances for the club.

Silvestre missed a large part of last season with knee ligament damage and had one year left on his Old Trafford contract. He had been linked with a move to Bordeaux and Manchester City during the summer but has opted to move to north London. "I've spent a large part of my career at United, the last nine years, and I'll remember that time fondly but feel I'm ready for a new challenge," he said.

"Arsenal are known for playing technical and skilful football, and have a young but experienced squad. I'm really excited about this next stage of my career, hopefully playing my part in helping the club to new successes."

It is the first piece of business conducted between Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger and his United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson, who have been fierce rivals since the Frenchman's arrival in north London almost 12 years ago. Wenger was delighted to have bolstered his defence and said: "We have a strong squad but a young squad and Mikaël's versatility, experience and calibre will provide the extra depth we need to reinforce our challenge for honours this season. His defensive adaptability will serve us well and it's a big plus that Mikaël has top level experience and a great understanding of football in the Premier League."

Silvestre, capped 40 times by France, had faced competition for the left-back slot at Old Trafford since Patrice Evra arrived from Monaco two years ago, and Nemanja Vidic has moved ahead of him as Rio Ferdinand's first-choice central defensive partner. He did not feature in the 1-1 draw against Newcastle last weekend.

Silvestre will wear the No 18 shirt at Arsenal and his arrival could hasten the departure of left-back Armand Traoré to Portsmouth in a loan deal. Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, whose team were beaten 4-0 by Chelsea on the opening day, targeted Traoré because he feels he has no cover for the 34-year-old Hermann Hreidarsson, who is starting to struggle at the Premier League level.

Traoré, 18, has made only three senior appearances for Arsenal but was part of last season's Carling Cup team. He had hoped to be the understudy to Gaël Clichy this season but Silvestre's switch has severely curtailed Traoré's chances of a first team place. Contracted to the club until 2013, Arsenal would not be prepared to sell Traoré yet and Portsmouth are in no position to fork out a transfer fee. Redknapp has been forced to look at short-term options for his team this season after spending the majority of his budget on the £11m fee for Liverpool's Peter Crouch.

He lost out on Nicky Shorey, an early target, because Pompey were unable to match the £3.5m fee and salary package from Aston Villa. Redknapp signed the midfielder Jerome Thomas on loan from Charlton Athletic last week but complained after the drubbing at Chelsea that he was finding it difficult acquiring players on loan deals so late in the transfer window.

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