By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger admits that the clock is ticking on his contract negotiations with Mathieu Flamini but he remains confident the French midfielder will sign a new deal.

The 25-year-old is out of contract in the summer and has been able to speak to other clubs since January. Newspapers have linked him to a couple of the major Italian sides.

Flamini and Wenger have been talking for some time but the manager has set a deadline for the end of this month. Both sides know that is approaching fast.

"We are getting close to yes or no," said Wenger at his pre-match press conference on Friday.

"He says he wants to stay and I believe him. But as long as he has not signed, for me, he is free to sign where he wants. We have set ourselves a target until the end of the month of April to finalise the situation, one way or the other.

"That's an absolute deadline because afterwards we have to make decisions about whether you have to move on the market because you don't have much time left."

At the start of every summer, Wenger is asked about his transfer plans. Every summer he replies by emphasising the importance of stability and continuity. Nothing will change in his attitude this season but a new ruling has complicated his plans.

"My first target is to keep the team together," said the 58-year-old. "Of course, that's a situation I do not master completely. But we want to continue to respect our wage structure because I feel that is very important.

"The situation at the moment has become much more unstable with the Webster clause. Every new rule provokes a little bit more inflation and instability because the players can always move out earlier and quicker.

"[The limit] was 28-years-old but I'm not convinced that that rule will resist for a long time. One day, a 26-year-old will go to court and say it's age discrimination. Why can you move out at 28 and not 26 after two years? So [that rule] will grow again. The stability inside a club will be a big problem because that can be a huge inflation factor."

* The 'Webster Clause' refers to Andrew Webster of Hearts who wished to move to Wigan in 2006. The case went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, they made their ruling earlier this season.

As a result, "the 'Webster Case' will allow players to leave a club after three years of a longer fixed-term contract, or just two years if they are aged over 28. There are two stipulations: the player must hand in his notice in the 15 days following his club's last official match of the third season, and he may not move to a club in the same country."

Source: BBC Online/ Scottish Herald

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Richard Clarke 18 Apr 2008