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By ESPN Staff

Usmanov ups stake in Arsenal once again

Russian Alisher Usmanov has further increased his stake in Arsenal to 23%, it was announced this morning.

The purchase is estimated to have cost the billionaire in the region of £6million at some £10,000 a share as his investment company Red and White Holdings Limited have upped their holding by around 2%.

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

The Gunners currently top the Premier League, and travel to West Ham tomorrow - but it is the recent activity on the stock markets which have grabbed the headlines.

Reports in the Russian media have quoted Usmanov 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.

Even though the board maintain they are not about to sell up and the current financial figures show there is no need for a wealthy individual backer, today's announcement will continue to fuel speculation Usmanov is preparing to launch a hostile takeover.

A statement read: 'Red and White Holdings Limited ('Red & White') today announces, in accordance with its intentions stated on the 30th August, that it has increased its shareholding and now holds a 23% stake in Arsenal Holdings plc ('Arsenal').'

Red and White Holdings were formed earlier this year when ex-Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein sold his 14.58% stake for £75million to the Russian.

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 over the involvement of American billionaire Stan Kroenke, who holds a 12.19% stake.

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

The so-called blocking stake of 25% would, according to managing director Keith 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 time frame under the strict regulations.

Chairman Peter Hill-Wood and the rest of the Arsenal board pledged to retain their current shareholding for at least one year after the controversial departure of former vice-chairman David Dein last April.

Hill-Wood, though, is sure the board will hold fast to their stance even when the self-imposed deadline passes early next year.

Nevertheless, today's development sees Red and White Holdings consolidate their position as Arsenal's second-largest shareholder behind director Danny Fiszman, who owns 24.11%.