By Chris Harris
A new deal for Fran Merida would be a "massive" boost for Arsenal, according to Arsène Wenger.
The Spaniard moved to North London in the summer of 2006 and climbed through the ranks to earn a first-team squad number at the start of this season. Merida repaid Wenger's faith by opening his account for the Club with a stunning strike in last month's Carling Cup win over Liverpool.
Potential suitors have been sniffing around the 19-year-old because his current contract expires at the end of the campaign but Wenger revealed at his pre-match press conference on Thursday that Merida has verbally agreed to re-sign for Arsenal. It's a development which has delighted the Arsenal manager.
"I think it's massive for us that he's signing a new deal because I believe he's an outstanding player," said Wenger.
"He has technical quality and he knows where to stand on the pitch. You can't give that to people. He has that quality of the pass in the final third and he sees things. And he's aggressive. He's a man on the football pitch and despite his size he's ready for a fight.
"He's in the first-team squad and I believe we prepare and we make room for the players we sign on a longer term."
If Merida had opted to leave Arsenal he would have been free to speak to other clubs from January 1 and Wenger believes that interested parties have already attempted to destabilise the Spaniard. The manager doesn't mind clubs taking an interest in his players - but he does mind them breaching the rules.
"I can't say I'm annoyed by other clubs going after our players because we do it as well. But we do it legally," he said.
"The difference is that we do not do what is not allowed by the law. We try to get the best players everywhere when it is allowed by the rules.
"For example in this case Fran Merida is at the end of his contract at the end of the season, but we know as well that means he could be contacted on January 1, 2010. We are not naïve enough to believe that he will get the first phonecall at midnight on January 1."