Merson is reassured over future

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Arsene Wenger yesterday told Paul Merson that he was very much part of the Arsenal manager's future plans at Highbury.

The midfielder has made an impressive comeback which culminated in an England call-up since he began his battle against drink, drugs and gambling, but his admission that his marriage had broken down brought with it the indication Merson was fretting over his contract.

His current deal with Arsenal ends next year and the 28-year-old admitted that the club's failure to table a new offer had added to his problems. However, Wenger has moved to reassure Merson that he remains part of his long-term plans.

"We have confidence in Paul to solve his personal problems, but if the club can help then we will do it," Wenger said. "Paul is a passionate footballer with great skill, and he has got himself back into the national squad. He is now arriving at the best years of his career and Arsenal can expect to see the best of Paul Merson. I think he is a player the club can count on in the future."

Mark Bosnich, the under-fire Aston Villa goalkeeper, has been given a glowing character reference from the Australian Football Association after he received an FA misconduct charge for his Nazi-style salute to Tottenham fans on Saturday.

In a letter faxed to the FA in London, David Hill, the chairman of Soccer Australia, described Bosnich as an out- standing ambassador. "Soccer Australia is proud of Mark's achievements and public profile. His efforts on and off the field have only brought good upon his sport and he has gone out of his way to help further the cause of football in Australia.

"While Soccer Australia would never condone Mark's actions in this matter, we do note his total, unequivocal retraction and expect that his action will not be repeated."

Ray Harford, the beleaguered Blackburn manager, has been given a vote of confidence by the club's vice-chairman, Richard Matthewman. "We felt Ray was the man for the job when we appointed him and he did a great job in the second half of last season.

"As far as we are concerned, nothing has changed and the main problems this season stemmed from Alan Shearer's departure which was not of Ray's making. I think Ray has made it clear that he wants to do the job and feels he can do it providing he has everyone's backing."

Meanwhile, Rovers' left-back, Graeme Le Saux, yesterday took a step nearer to returning to duty for the first time since his ankle injury 10 months ago, playing the full 90 minutes of a closed-doors practice game against Tranmere.

Paul Ince has been given a two-match ban following his controversial sending-off at the weekend in Internazionale's 2-0 victory over Piacenza. Ince was shown the red card after Giampietro Piovani collapsed theatrically in the goalmouth clutching his head. TV replays showed that Ince had merely tweaked the Italian's ear.

Chris Robinson, the chairman of Hearts, has been ordered to appear in front of the Scottish Football Association's disciplinary committee at their next meeting on 18 November. Robinson, who appeared on the touchline as his club had four men sent off in their game with Rangers at Ibrox last month, has been summoned to explain his actions.

The Brighton manager, Jimmy Case, has renewed his plea for the club to resolve their off-the-field problems following further demonstrations during Tuesday night's 1-0 home defeat by Hereford.

Around 2,000 Seagulls supporters walked out of the Goldstone Ground 15 minutes from the end to protest at Bill Archer's running of the club.

Brighton supporters' groups are pledging further demonstrations to maintain the pressure on the chairman. Case admitted: "It's getting harder for the players and me to function.

"I don't know where we go from here. I've got to get the side off the bottom of the league, but attracting new players in the current circumstances is difficult."

Case said Archer had kept him informed of his plans for the club. "He understands what's going on and is pursuing his proposals for a new stadium in Hove," Case said.

"I'm concerned about all the delays and confidence is being affected. My players haven't thrown in the towel yet. I'm getting a lot from them - but I need a bit more."