Arsenal fear that their move for the Valencia midfielder Juan Mata could yet be hijacked by Manchester City, with the FA Cup winners taking a keen interest in the player after failing to land either Samir Nasri or Ashley Young this summer.
Worryingly for Arsenal, City have identified Mata, the star of Spain's European Under-21 Championship-winning team this summer, as fitting the profile of the versatile attacking midfielder they had hoped to sign.
City have looked at both Nasri and Young, who joined Manchester United, as well as Mata. The 23-year-old can operate in any position across the three behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is one of the areas City have been looking to strengthen.
If it comes down to a question of the highest offer for the player then it would be difficult to see City losing out. Mata would represent a considerable investment given his release clause of around £17.5m, which is more than Arsenal paid for Jose Antonio Reyes – who at £17m is thought to be their biggest ever signing, although it has never been verified by the club.
The player himself is thought to be happy to move to Arsenal but the club are aware of City's interest and are taking nothing for granted. City's chances of signing Nasri for this summer at least have now gone, barring a complete change of heart from Arsène Wenger, and like many of the big clubs in Europe they have looked at Mata.
Even with the signings of Sergio Aguero, Gaël Clichy and Stefan Savic already this summer, City still have room to spare in their 25-man Premier League squad once the likes of Craig Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Wayne Bridge are discounted – none of whom has even made the squad for this weekend's friendlies.
City should comfortably fulfil the stipulation for eight homegrown players, even with the likely departure of Shaun Wright-Phillips, as Clichy counts as homegrown.
As for Arsenal, the putative transfer of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona would appear to have stalled for the time being. Valencia conceded yesterday that they already have a contingency plan in place if Mata leaves, though the club's technical secretary, Bralui Vazquez, says he believes the player, part of Spain's World Cup squad, might still stay.
He said: "I hope that he will stay with Valencia and I think he will do so. We have not received any offers for him so far. But we do have a back-up plan in case he leaves. That's not just something we do for Juan. We have a similar plan for every player. We have to be prepared if that happens."
City have also left open the possibility that Aguero could make his home debut in Dublin this weekend – they play a guest XI tomorrow and then Internazionale. Yesterday the club said that Aguero was "likely to be in the squad" for the two matches despite having come straight from his summer break in Argentina.
Last night the Argentine gave his first interview on his transfer to City in which he said he had signed for one of the Premier League's "biggest" teams. "Of course they are great players, and, yes, I have played against them in the past but now they are here, in a team which right now is one of the biggest teams in England," he said.
"So for sure they are great players and I'm lucky to be playing alongside them. I'm happy about that. My style has always been to fight to the death for every ball, and give 100 per cent in every game; be concentrated to the maximum in everything I do; movement, running off the ball, winning the ball back and scoring goals. I'm not a player who can do everything, but I still have plenty to offer."
Meanwhile, the Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner was last night looking at a fresh start away from the Emirates as he closed on a £9m move to Sporting Lisbon.