Arsenal close in on 'number one target' Maniche

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The Independent Online

In an ideal world - and the events of the past few weeks will have convinced Arsène Wenger that such a place doesn't exist - Arsenal would replace Patrick Vieira with Steven Gerrard. He undoubtedly wants him, even if he would balk at the price. But that deal will not happen. Following his astonishing last-minute change of heart about going to Chelsea, Gerrard will certainly remain at Anfield.

Instead Wenger's "number one target", according to the player's agent Paulo Barbosa, is Porto's Maniche Ribeiro. That may surprise some observers who would regard Wenger as the kind of coach who would not be influenced into buying a player simply because he has had an outstanding international tournament, as Maniche undoubtedly did in Euro 2004. Especially when, as with the 26-year-old, he had not played for his country for nine months prior to a late run into the squad.

But it should not be forgotten that Wenger went out and bought Gilberto Silva after his exploits for Brazil in the last World Cup. Gilberto, again, had had a meteoric rise but was only selected after a freak training ground accident involving Emerson.

Maniche, if he arrives at Highbury, will hope to become more of an instant success than Gilberto who, despite his quiet qualities, has not won over the fans. To be fair, Maniche was also outstanding in Porto's Champions' League campaign and has hankered after a move to the Premiership. He had hoped to join Jose Mourinho at Chelsea but his former coach was always more likely to take Deco or Costinha with him. In the event he took none of the three.

That hurt Maniche, who was originally priced at £15m by Porto. But no one - not even Real Madrid - were going to pay that. It may be that Arsenal, who would prefer Vieira's replacement to be on board by the weekend, will decide that even £9m is too much. After all, despite his defensive strengths, Maniche is a much less powerful player than Vieira.

Another possible target being mooted yesterday was the Argentina international Javier Mascherano, who plays for River Plate, Arsenal's opponents in the pre-season Amsterdam tournament. The 20-year-old defensive midfielder was a leading player at the recent Copa America and his abrasive style may suit the Premiership.

Wenger has also just signed an other 20-year-old, Mathieu Flamini, from Marseille, and despite Arsenal's apparent desire to find a big-name replacement for Vieira they could surprise everyone and thrust the young Frenchman forward.

CLOSE-SEASON TRANSFERS AT ARSENAL

Ins Robin van Persie (Feyenoord) £3m; Manuel Almunia (Celta Vigo) undisclosed; Arturo Lupoli (Parma) undisclosed; Mathieu Flamini (Marseille) undisclosed.

Outs Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Barcelona) undisclosed; Stathis Tavlaridis (Lille) undisclosed; Ray Parlour (Middlesbrough) free; Graham Stack (Millwall) loan; David Bentley (Norwich) loan; Sylvain Wiltord (released); Kanu (West Brom) free; Martin Keown (released); Igors Stepanovs (released); Rami Shaaban (released).

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