Arsenal expect to be in a position to make an offer for Gareth Barry this week when they finally close the deal to sell their former captain Gilberto Silva to Panathinaikos. The Brazilian is flying to Athens today to sign a three-year deal with the Greek club that should be worth around £5m to Arsenal.
Aston Villa announced yesterday that Barry will return to training today, although at which club he will start the new season is by no means clear. The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has let it be known to the club's hierarchy that he rates the England midfielder highly and Wenger rarely discloses the identity of a transfer target until he is reasonably certain that he is sure of the player's suitability. His Villa counterpart, Martin O'Neill, confirmed this week that Arsenal have made a preliminary inquiry.
The relationship between Villa and Liverpool has been soured by Rafael Benitez's very public pursuit of Barry, leaving O'Neill much better disposed to a bid from another club. Villa do not regard selling their club captain as inevitable, but they are doubtful that Liverpool will ever be able to come up with a deal that is acceptable to them. Barry was fined two weeks' wages for criticising O'Neill for what he claimed was his manager's failure to move the deal along.
Gilberto is expected in Athens on a flight from Brazil this afternoon with a view to an announcement on his new three-year deal either today or tomorrow. Everton have made strenuous efforts to persuade him to speak to them, but the lure of a lucrative final payday for the 31-year-old was decisive in the end. Everton's interest was real but the club did not move quickly enough to put together a deal sufficiently competitive for the Brazilian.
Villa were due to play a friendly against Lincoln City last night and play in Denmark against Odense on Saturday in the first leg of their Intertoto Cup tie. It is doubtful whether Barry, whose pre-season effectively begins today, would play in either match. The key factor is whether Arsenal will pay the £18m fee that has proved such a sticking point for Liverpool. Wenger has lost Mathieu Flamini and is about to sell Gilberto, but even he must balk at paying that size of fee for a holding midfielder. The club's record fee is around the £12.5m- £13m mark, which was roughly what was paid for Sylvain Wiltord, Jose Antonio Reyes and Eduardo da Silva.
Arsenal's chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, suggested yesterday that Arsenal were not preparing to make a major signing. "Buying a whole lot of stars and hoping to mould them together is one way of doing it, but it is not Arsène's way," he said. "He prefers to build long term as best he can and develop young players in the way he wants them to play. I am very much in favour of that. There is an awful lot of talk about big transfers, but throughout the UK and Europe that money is not quite as easy to obtain as it used to be. A lot of people don't seem to realise that in the long run you must run a football club on a sensible commercial basis."