Arsenal close in on Baptista but Barça still keen

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The Independent Football

There has been an Arsenal delegation in Seville this week which has agreed a fee of £13.8m for the player - almost exactly the same amount as Juve paid for Vieira. However, Arsenal have run into problems with Baptista, 23, who has not yet accepted their annual salary offer of about £2.1m - despite being on a salary at Seville of £214,000 - and has indicated that he would rather join Barcelona.

The Spanish champions have been unable to raise the funds to buy the player immediately but have agreed a deal with him to join the club at the end of next season for little over £1m. The deal has been agreed under the terms of a Fifa rule that allows players earning less than a certain amount to leave for a nominal fee within one year of their contract expiring.

This agreement has been reached without the acquiescence of Seville, whose president, Jose Maria Del Nido, yesterday endorsed Arsenal's bid for Baptista. Del Nido, who confirmed Tottenham were also interested, warned the Brazilian that Seville would not take kindly to the player waiting another year and preventing his club from realising his full value.

Del Nido said: "Until Arsenal upped their offer to £13.8m the bid from Spurs was bigger but not quite enough. The player has forced his own exit and there is no player who has wanted to move club that didn't succeed. Now that he has made a fuss I hope he sticks to his word that he wants to do the right thing by our club and does not attempt to force a transfer to a club we haven't agreed a deal with.

"There are offers on the table from others - though at this moment there is no formal offer from Barcelona or Real Madrid - but Arsenal's is the best."

The pressure brought to bear upon Baptista is likely to mean that, with some regret, he will travel to Highbury for a medical within the next few days unless Barcelona match Arsenal's bid for the player. He is regarded by the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, as a player who will combine with his fellow Brazilian Gilberto Silva, who occupies a more defensive role in the Arsenal midfield.

Wenger, who signed Gaël Clichy and Jose Antonio Reyes to new long-term contracts yesterday, has ruled out moving for Lyon's Mahamadou Diarra and Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, has moved to quash speculation that Jermaine Jenas could also move to Highbury. "We are not in the business of selling our best players and Jermaine is one of those," he said. "There isn't anyone who can afford him anyway."

Following Vieira's official introduction as a Juventus player in Turin yesterday, Wenger reflected on the loss of a player who he says has left a "massive hole" in his squad. The Arsenal manager said that he "respected" Vieira's decision to leave but admitted that the "timing" of the transfer did not suit Arsenal.

"It leaves a massive hole because of his quality, presence and charisma and that's not easy to replace," Wenger said. "But we have done some work already with our players to face the challenge because that is what is in front of us. The experienced players have a big part to play now to show strength and character.

"A massive player has left but that we still have enough quality to fight for the championship. We are open [to strengthening] everywhere. Yes, I would like somebody to come in and if the right opportunity comes along we will take it, although the timing is not the best.

"I feel I had a special relationship with Patrick. He had a tremendous impact on not only Arsenal but English football in general. We still have a lot of talent but we are not desperate. So let's make sure everybody is fit for the season.

"Now we have to find another captain to lead the troops. I have not yet made up my mind and I have to do that in the next few weeks. I have many options among the experienced players but we have to stick together and work as a unit and compensate for the departure of Patrick."

Wenger promised: "The fee for him will not be used for the stadium, it will be used for the team exclusively. I can give you that guarantee. Use it now or later in the season? I don't know. We don't have any financial problem linked with the new stadium.

"It's a gamble to let a massive player go. He had a special place in our team, but it's a challenge and an opportunity for a young player to show his qualities."

Vieira, meanwhile, said his biggest regret at leaving Highbury was not winning a Champions' League trophy. He said: "We won almost everything with Arsenal. The only trophy missing is the Champions' League. And when you think that the year before last Porto won it, then you think anyone can win it. We have been really unlucky in that competition."

The former Porto manager Jose Mourinho, whose Chelsea team play Benfica in Lisbon tomorrow, said that Arsenal would not have let Vieira leave without serious consideration.

In a rare compliment directed at his London rivals, Mourinho said that Arsenal were "not stupid" and would have thought hard about letting their captain leave. "They have a very intelligent manager so I don't believe they did this just on instinct or without thinking and analysing the situation," Mourinho said.

"If they do it, it is for some reason. If they do it, it is because around the corner they have another solution they think is good for them. I think of them as intelligent people."