By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger has revealed Arsenal were "very close" to signing Cristiano Ronaldo before he moved to Manchester United in 2003.

The Portuguese winger is having a superb season and leads the Premier League scoring charts with 19 goals. Overall the 22-year-old has 54 strikes in 149 games for Sir Alex Ferguson's side - a great ratio from midfield. But he so nearly plied his exciting trade at Emirates Stadium.

"I knew about him yes," said Wenger at Friday's pre-match press conference. "We were very close. Manchester United had a partnership with Sporting Lisbon when Carlos Queiroz came in - that made the difference.

"One day I will tell you more about that story and you will be surprised. But you will have to ask him how close it was."

Wenger's own striker, Emmanuel Adebayor, is the nearest challenger to Ronaldo in the scoring charts with 16. The Arsenal manager was surprised to see that particular pair so far clear at the top.

"I expected Rooney to be in there, also Owen but he was injured," said Wenger. "I am not surprised too much that Adebayor scores more goals, but I did not expect Ronaldo to score as many as he has because he plays on the wing.

"Someone asked me in an interview today what is the difference between Ronaldo and Messi? For me it is the goals. Messi is more of a dribbler in a very short space, but Ronaldo is good in the air, good on free-kicks, right foot, left foot. He has developed very well."

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Richard Clarke 1 Feb 2008