Arsenal open formal talks with Barcelona to sign David Villa

By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent

Arsenal have opened formal talks with Barcelona to sign David Villa, can reveal.

The Gunners’ contract negotiator Dicky Law has been in Spain to negotiate the transfer of the country’s all-time leading goalscorer and Arsenal are increasingly hopeful they can push through what would be a sensational deal in the last days of the window.

The Londoners were knocked back by Barcelona when they made an approach for Villa earlier this month.

But Arsene Wenger has refused to accept defeat in his pursuit of the forward and has been encouraged that the runaway La Liga leaders have softened their stance on selling him in recent days.

Spanish sources have told that Villa is “very keen” to join Arsenal after growing frustrated with his lack of opportunities at the Nou Camp.

Wenger is a long-time admirer of Villa, who turned 31 last month, and is prepared to pay up to £13.8 million to sign him on a permanent deal and match his current £110,000-a-week wages.

Negotiations have centred on the construction of the deal, with Barcelona still owing Arsenal scheduled payments for the transfers that took Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song to Camp Nou in the summers of 2011 and 2012.

Wenger wants a marquee signing to galvanise both the supporters and the playing squad as the club attempt to secure a top-four league finish and negotiate a round-of-16 Champions League tie against last season’s runners-up Bayern Munich.

Although Villa played the whole 90 minutes in Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Osasuna on Sunday – his first full match since November 2011 – he has started just 12 of the club’s 35 matches this season, including only seven out of a possible 21 in La Liga.

Arsenal have made bolstering their strikeforce a top priority in the window, with Wenger keen on a mobile, orthodox centre-forward this month who can play anywhere across his forward line and dovetail with his current first-choice spearheads Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud.

The Gunners tabled a bid of around £10m for Atletico Madrid’s Adrian Lopez but they are now concentrating their efforts on pushing through a deal for Villa.

Barcelona had been reluctant to offload such a valuable asset ahead of a twin assault on the Champions League and La Liga titles, and the club’s public stance has been that the striker will stay at least until the summer. “David is not going to leave,” coach Tito Vilanova said a fortnight ago. “We are very happy with him.”

Privately, the Spanish club accept that they might have to grant his wish of a switch this month and cash in on a player who only has 18 months remaining on his contract.

Villa, who missed much of last season after breaking his leg, is Barca’s second-leading scorer in 2012-13 with 10 goals, behind only Lionel Messi, who has netted an astonishing 44 times.

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