Merson free to go

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Even in his gambling days, Paul Merson cannot have been tempted by the kind of jackpot with which Bryan Robson is attempting to lure the unwanted Gunner north of Watford but south of English football's Premiership gap. A five-year deal worth around pounds 5m is the golden carrot Robson has dangled in the hope of persuading the 29-year-old England forward to join Middlesbrough.

David Dein, Arsenal's vice-chairman, confirmed yesterday that a fee has been agreed and Merson is spending the weekend pondering his future. He had hoped to sign a new contract with Arsenal, the club he has served for 13 years, but was told on Friday that he can leave. Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has recruited six new players over the summer break. He has also tied Dennis Bergkamp and Ray Parlour to new long-term deals and Dein has promised a "major signing" before the Gunners kick off the new season on 9 August.

Merson, it seems, will be making his Middlesbrough debut at home to Charlton Athletic the same afternoon. His agent, Steve Kutner, said yesterday: "We have not spoken to Middlesbrough ourselves but we will be doing so as soon as possible. Paul feels this could be an amazing new challenge for his career."

With David Hirst likely to complete a pounds 2m move to Middlesbrough from Sheffield Wednesday this week, Robson is endeavouring to get his retaliation in first - before the the twin blow of losing Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli. Juninho is due to return to Teesside today but will not travel with the Middlesbrough squad to their pre-season training camp near Milan. The Brazilian is expected to complete his protracted pounds 11m transfer to Atletico Madrid this week, but the swiftness of Ravanelli's proposed move to Anfield depends on Liverpool meeting Middlesbrough's pounds 8m asking price.

It was reported in Italy yesterday that a Liverpool delegation will arrive in Milan tomorrow to sign Paul Ince for pounds 5m. Internazionale have seemingly cleared the way for the midfielder's departure, having recruited the Brazilian Ze Elias from Bayer Leverkusen. And there was a clear-out in Davey Jones' locker-room yesterday, Southampton's new manager dispensing with the services of Phil Boersma, Ray Clarke and Alan Murray, and hiring John Sainty, his assistant at Stockport.