Arsenal meet with Dein investment group

Arsenal tonight confirmed a "constructive meeting" had taken place with Farhad Moshiri of Red and White Holdings Limited, who now possess almost a quarter of the club's shares.

Arsenal tonight confirmed a "constructive meeting" had taken place with Farhad Moshiri of Red and White Holdings Limited, who now possess almost a quarter of the club's shares.

The investment company, jointly owned by London-based Moshiri and Russian Alisher Usmanov, today further increased their stake in Arsenal to 23%, consolidating their position as the second-largest shareholder behind director Danny Fiszman, who owns 24.11%.

Shares in Arsenal are now trading around the £10,000 (€14,352) mark, and talk of a full-blown takeover shows few signs of dissipating.

Arsenal's parent company earlier this week published highly impressive figures for 2006/2007, with overall turnover up to £200.8m (€288.2m) at Emirates Stadium and operating profit also increased significantly to £51.2m (€73.5m) following the club's move to their new 60,000-seater home.

Despite all of the speculation, however, the current board have always maintained they have no intention of selling up, and are currently in a 12-month "lockdown" agreement.

Arsenal already have a good working relationship with American billionaire investor Stan Kroenke, whose company hold around 12% of stock and have a marketing partnership with the Gunners through their Major League Soccer club Colorado Rapids.

Despite the confirmation a meeting with Red & White Holdings - whose chairman is former Arsenal board member David Dein - the directors insist the stance on the sale of any of their 45.45% remains unmoved.

A statement read: "The board of Arsenal Holdings wish to confirm that a constructive meeting took place between Peter Hill-Wood, Keith Edelman and Farhad Moshiri of Red and White Holdings Limited.

"Board members of Arsenal Football Club wish to reiterate their intention of retaining their shareholding in the club and have no intention of selling any shares.

"The board believe that the continued success of the club can best be achieved by the company remaining independent."

On the pitch, meanwhile, the speculation over ownership shows little sign of distracting the team.

Arsene Wenger takes his side to West Ham tomorrow looking to stay top of the Premier League table and the manager has no intention of losing that focus.

"What we have a responsibility for is to keep our owners happy on the football pitch and whoever runs the club it would be exactly the same. We have to focus on football," said Wenger, when fronting the now routine questions about behind-the-scenes activities at this afternoon's media conference.

"At the moment we are not looking at a change of owners of the club."

Wenger quipped: "Usmanov is increasing his shares, weeks before it was [Stan] Kroenke - he has gone quiet suddenly, playing golf now."

The Arsenal manager may not be concerning himself with the supposed boardroom power struggle, but Wenger is worried the continuing trend to take ownership out of the traditional holdings are in danger of seeing English football "lose its soul".

Nevertheless, Usmanov seems intend to increasing his foothold in Arsenal.

Reports in the Russian media have quoted the metals magnate - worth an estimated £2.7bn (€3.88bn) - as being ready to up his interest to obtain a 'blocking stake' of just over 25% before then waiting for the share price to rise.

Red and White Holdings were formed earlier this year when ex-Arsenal vice-chairman Dein sold his 14.58% stake for £75m (€107.6m).

At the time, Dein outlined his vision to turn Arsenal into "the world's number one football club" and "work with others to provide the financial resources necessary to turn the vision into reality".

Dein had stepped down from the Arsenal board in April over a disagreement concerning the involvement of Kroenke.

However, suggestions of an imminent takeover or gaining major influence in the club's affairs are perhaps somewhat premature.

The so-called blocking stake of 25% would, according to managing director Edelman, allow little actual influence over company affairs, only enabling the veto of special resolutions such as changing the name of the company, or calling an Emergency General Meeting, which could be resolved by the current board given their share holding at any rate.

Edelman said on Monday: "I am unsure what he [Usmanov] can do with 25%, and I do not believe he can stop us operating the business on a day-to-day basis.

"Usmanov has a stake, Kroenke has a stake and we get on and run the business every day.

"It is a distraction for us to keep talking about it, but we are trying to focus on the team getting the job done and we do not think it affects them."

Once any individual or company reaches the 30% threshold, they would be required to launch an official takeover.

However, this would not apply to Red and White Holdings Limited - of whom Dein is now the chairman - for at least six months after a public statement there was "no current intention to make a takeover offer".

Suggestions American billionaire Kroenke would sell off his 12.19% holding to the Russians and so push Red and White Holdings well over the threshold have also been quelled by Edelman, who reflected the Takeover Panel would not allow such a move within the timeframe under the strict regulations.

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