Thomas Vermaelen is on the verge of a move from Arsenal to Barcelona that could be worth up to £15m to leave the north London club and Manchester United, who had wanted to take him, chasing a new central defensive signing.
Arsenal have been left with only Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny as established options in the position, plus the £16m summer signing, Calum Chambers, who can provide cover and Arsène Wenger, the manager, is on record as saying that Vermaelen’s sale would necessitate a push for a replacement.
United’s need is pressing, particularly as the new manager, Louis van Gaal, intends to play with three centre-halves. His move for Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels has been rebuffed and, at present, his established options are restricted to Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
United refused to consider the inclusion of either Jones or Smalling in their move for Vermaelen – Wenger had floated the idea of a part-exchange – and they knew that Arsenal would rather sell to an overseas club. Vermaelen, disgruntled last season at his place below Mertesacker and Koscielny in the pecking order, had been ready to join United, where he could have linked up with his friend and former Arsenal team-mate Robin van Persie.
But Barcelona have come through with the offer of a five-year contract, which is acceptable to Vermaelen, and a fee to satisfy Arsenal. The initial payment is believed to be around £12m. The length of the proposed deal from United was four years. Vermaelen’s Arsenal contract was due to expire next summer.
Wenger will have to appoint a new captain – despite his bit-part player role last season, Vermaelen retained the armband – and the manager will chose between Mikel Arteta, the vice-captain, who has one year to run on his contract, and Per Mertesacker.
Mertesacker will return to training on Monday, together with the club’s other Germany World Cup winners, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski, having had an extended summer break. Without Mertesacker, Wenger is expected to pair Koscielny with Chambers in Sunday’s Community Shield against Manchester City.
All three Germans face a battle to be match fit for the Premier League opener at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday week, with Podolski’s future at the club in doubt. The forward has long been unhappy at how Wenger does not appear to consider him as a certain starter. The club would sell Podolski at the right price.