Arsenal seek to replace Vieira with Porto's £9m Maniche

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The Independent Football

Arsenal will today hold talks with Porto over the £9m transfer of the midfielder Maniche Ribeiro to replace their captain, Patrick Vieira, who was last night finalising his move to Real Madrid.

That £23.1m deal appeared to be going ahead although several stumbling blocks, particularly how the payments of the transfer will be made and the player's salary, still remained. However, progress was made on all fronts yesterday and none of the obstacles are believed to be insurmountable.

Certainly Vieira, 28, believes his time at Arsenal, after eight years, is coming to an end. He informed some of his team-mates yesterday that he was definitely leaving. Real, after two failed attempts, finally seem to have got their man even if Vieira is unlikely to be signed in time for next week's Champions' League qualifying tie.

Events have escalated since the Spanish radio station Cadena SER, whose parent company has a stake in Real, reported that Vieira had agreed a deal late on Tuesday evening. The departure will be a severe blow to Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger.

Maniche has been targeted as his "number one replacement" and a deal appears likely after Porto lowered their asking price. But Wenger is evaluating several other players, which may explain the club dragging its heels. Among them is Javier Mascherano, the 20-year-old Argentinian from River Plate who impressed at the Copa America.

Despite Arsenal's strength in midfield, after losing Ray Parlour to Middlesbrough Wenger must replace Vieira as soon as possible. Vieira's friend, the former Real player Claude Makelele, said that Vieira made up "40 per cent" of the team. "Vieira is a symbol," the Chelsea midfielder said. Arsenal refused to comment yesterday. Bookmakers responded to Vieira's imminent transfer by installing Chelsea as the Premiership favourites.

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