Barcelona are close to agreeing a deal to sign Arsenal's Alexander Hleb for a fee that could rise to £15m. The Spanish club hope to make an announcement in the next few days with the 27-year-old, who has been offered a four-year contract, being presented, along with rest of the club's summer signings, to the media on Monday.
Last night Arsenal were still insisting that no deal had been struck but it appears they are now willing to compromise on their initial asking price for Hleb which was £18m. Barça had an offer of £12.5m rejected but have submitted a new proposal which would add a further £2.5m to the deal over the next two years, dependent on winning silverware.
Arsenal also disputed claims from Barça sources that Hleb was due to fly to Spain today for a medical but it seems only a matter of time before the Belarussian, who has made no secret of his desire to leave the Emirates this summer, is sold.
The deal has implications for Emmanuel Adebayor. Barça are keen to sign the Togolese striker, who scored 30 goals last season, and have bid around £24m but are certainly not going to match Arsenal's asking price of £36m for the 24-year-old. It is unlikely, having already signed five players under new coach Pep Guardiola, that they have the finances to pursue Adebayor.
It is thought his preferred destination is Milan – he held talks with the Italians before the end of last season – and their vice-president Adriano Galliani has revealed that he received a letter from Arsenal inviting the club to make a bid. Milan, who signed Mathieu Flamini from Arsenal on a free transfer earlier this summer, have declared that Adebayor is their "sole transfer target". But that statement looks hollow especially as Galliani has listed other strikers he is interested in – while a deal to take Ronaldinho to the San Siro is still being discussed.
It was thought that Hleb, too, would end up playing at the same stadium but in the colours of Internazionale. He held talks with Inter at the same time as Flamini – his friend – was discussing his move but, with Jose Mourinho's appointment as coach, the deal fell through. Still it did not change Hleb's resolve to leave Arsenal and, privately, he has cited a belief that he does not expect to win trophies at the club.
Hleb also knows he will be paid more by Barça or Inter and is concerned about Arsenal's policy of offering only one-year deals to players aged over 30.
He arrived at Arsenal three years ago from Stuttgart for £11.2m and the club want to turn a healthy profit on a player who has blossomed under manager Arsène Wenger. He already has French international Samir Nasri lined up to replace Hleb and the winger will arrive from Marseilles for around £13m once he returns from holiday.
Hleb has made no secret of the fact that he wants to go and there have been, throughout the summer, statements and quotes attached to him registering increasing levels of disgruntlement. However, he was forced to issue a denial earlier this week that he had different ideas about football than Wenger and that he considered his Arsenal team-mate Cesc Fabregas to be selfish. "I am shocked by some media reports," Hleb said.
Yesterday Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna said that the players accepted that Hleb wanted to leave the club. "It's part of football. We also lost Mathieu Flamini, who was an important player in midfield," he said. "That's a shame but I'm not worried. Samir should arrive soon and then there are a lot of young players knocking at the door. It may be a good chance for them to make the step. Then, of course if Emmanuel [Adebayor] was to leave, it'd be a massive loss. But we're not there yet."
Wenger is certainly prepared to let Adebayor go – partly because he is increasingly annoyed by the striker's attitude – but would rather simply lose Hleb. Replacing Adebayor will be more difficult. Wenger has great faith in Nicklas Bendtner but the manager knows he needs to find more experienced replacements.
It is understood that Arsenal are considering a move for the Blackburn Rovers' Roque Santa Cruz and are also examining whether to bid for Newcastle United's Obafemi Martins – although they would want to pay no more than £9m for the Nigerian. Newcastle's asking price is believed to be £15m. There is a £13m buy-out clause in Martins' contract but this is triggered only if he asks for a transfer and the striker does not want to do this.