Arsene Wenger agreed a £10million deal for Ajax centre-back Thomas Vermaelen yesterday but is still unsure about who will partner him at the heart of Arsenal’s defence next season.
Though his agent Soren Lerby was still negotiating personal terms last night, Vermaelen seems certain to sign a four-year contract at The Emirates after convincing the Arsenal manager he has the credentials to shore up a defence that was repeatedly found wanting last season.
Running into millions: Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen is poised for Arsenal
‘In the coming days there will be more talks,’ Vermaelen told Algemeen Dagblad. ‘Moving to Arsenal is the right path for me. It is a great sporting challenge and I will also be financially better off. I think everything is going to be okay.’
But while Wenger feels the 23-year old Belgium stopper can solve his most pressing need, his hopes of pairing him with Kolo Toure appear to be fading.
Manchester City are determined to step up their recruitment drive this week, after landing Gareth Barry from Aston Villa for £12million, and will launch bids for their two main defensive targets, Toure and Joleon Lescott.
Everton manager David Moyes has already warned City off by insisting Lescott is staying put, but Wenger faces a tougher task hanging on to Toure.
Centre of attention: Everton’s Joleon Lescott (right) has admirers
The 28-year old has only 12 months left on his Arsenal contract and is keen to pursue a move to City after almost joining them in the January window.
Manager Mark Hughes was frustrated in his efforts to add Toure to New Year signing Shay Given but has the funds in place now to push through a £10million deal that could involve Micah Richards going the other way.
As an indication of Richards’ fall from grace, Sportsmail understands he has been offered to most leading Barclays Premier League clubs for as little as £6million, less than two years after his value soared beyond £20million, in the wake of his breakthrough to the senior England side.
Hughes has become exasperated with the 20-year old defender’s attitude and is ready to move him on after a training ground bust-up last season that merely compounded growing concerns over his loss of form.
On his way out: Arsenal’s Kolo Toure is set to go
The response from potential buyers has been lukewarm so far, and Wenger may prefer to top up his limited transfer budget with £10million in cash, rather than take boyhood Arsenal fan Richards in part-exchange.
Vermaelen has been on Arsenal’s radar for months, after Wenger pinpointed central defence as his side’s weakest area, and is heading for The Emirates after making nearly 100 appearances for Ajax and being capped 21 times by Belgium.
Sources in Belgium have expressed surprise at Wenger’s interest, particularly after a recent interview with former Arsenal skipper Tony Adams on setanta.com. Adams, who has been scouting for Arsenal since being sacked as Portsmouth manager, referred to Vermaelen’s height, at 5ft 11in, and said: ‘I think he is a very good player, but I don’t think he is ready for the Arsenal. I don’t think the punters at Arsenal would like another small one.’
While Lerby thrashed out contract details with Arsenal, Everton were doing their best to knock City off the trail of their England defender Lescott.
After steering his side to fifth place in the Premier League and a narrow FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea, Moyes said: ‘Some people may see Everton as not having that much finance, but there is no way we will be letting any of our players leave.
‘The chairman has said that, and I have made it clear, too. Everyone is under contract, and the one thing we have got at our club is stability with our players. They are all on long-term deals, and we don’t need the money.
‘I would like money to spend, but I won’t be giving up any of my players to raise funds. We have had to build carefully, work with players to improve them and juggle one or two things around along the way, but I feel that gives you more satisfaction than just going out and throwing money at the finished article.