Sunday 25 February 2018

Vermaelen to finalise £15m Barcelona move

Thomas Vermaelen
Thomas Vermaelen

Thomas Vermaelen, the Arsenal captain, is close to finalising a five-year £15 million move to Barcelona.

Talks between the two clubs remain ongoing but there is now a sense that a deal could happen in the next 48 hours, with Manchester United falling behind Barcelona after being unwilling to improve their offer of a three-year deal with the option of a fourth.

Arsenal’s desire for players – potentially Chris Smalling or Phil Jones – as part of the deal has also compromised negotiations with United. It is understood that Vermaelen had agreed a deal in principle with United but, with Arsenal unable to reach any resolution on the fee or structure of payments, the move stalled.

Barcelona then made their move this week and, while Vermaelen had initially been attracted by the prospect of remaining in England, the length of the contract on offer from Barcelona is understood to be a potentially decisive factor.

Arsenal’s obvious preference would be to sell Vermaelen abroad rather than strengthen United, although there were discussions about including players as part of the deal. This, however, was unacceptable to United.

Although Vermaelen could still wait in the hope that Arsenal would back down if he waited until nearer to the end of the transfer window, the expectation is that he will sign for Barcelona imminently. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are Arsenal’s first-choice centre-backs and Vermaelen knows this is unlikely to change unless there are injuries. He is desperate for first-team football at this stage of his career, with the interest of both Barcelona and Manchester United a clear sign of how highly rated he remains.

Arsene Wenger had ideally wanted to keep him as back-up – he can also cover at left-back – but Vermaelen has only one year remaining on his contract. Arsenal, then, would be reluctant to allow him to run down his current deal and leave for nothing to a club of his choice next summer.

The loss of Vermaelen would also force Wenger into appointing a new captain. Mikel Arteta has been vice captain and Wenger will be relaxed about simply promoting the Spaniard even if he also has only one year left on his contract. If Arteta’s position became more doubtful this summer, Wenger would almost certainly simply turn to Mertesacker.

Arsenal have signed Calum Chambers, Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina this summer for a combined £60 million. It is understood that the annual rise to the wage bill is also around £30 million. A new centre-back would certainly be recruited if, as expected, Vermaelen departs but it would be difficult for Wenger to make further major additions without player sales.

As well as Vermaelen, Lukas Podolski could be allowed to leave. There is interest in adding another central midfielder, with William Carvalho, Sami Khedira and Lars Bender among the leading targets, but it is not an urgent priority. It is hoped that Chambers will develop as an option in that position and, among the established players, Wenger still has Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby.

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