Napoli step up interest in Arsenal captain Vermaelen

The Serie A club have met with the agent of Belgium defender who is struggling for game time with the Gunners, while Liverpool slap a €5 million pricetag on Pepe Reina

By Marco Giordano

Napoli are weighing up a summer move for Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen after meeting with the player’s agent.

Talks have taken place with Alex Kroes over a possible transfer for his client as Rafa Benitez looks to bolster his defensive options and mount a concerted Serie A challenge next season.

Benitez is a long-term admirer of Vermaelen, who has suffered due to the blossoming partnership between Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at Emirates Stadium.

Zenit have also been linked with a move for the Belgian before the Russian transfer window closes on February 25, but Arsenal have no intention of letting him go mid-season.

Vermaelen, who has been sidelined with a series of niggling injuries since starting the Gunners’ FA Cup win over Tottenham on January 4, has been a fringe player at the Emirates over the last 12 months.

However, the Arsenal staff have been impressed by his attitude and professionalism, and the defender has not pushed strongly for a move even though his place in Belgium’s highly competitive starting line-up at the World Cup is under threat.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have told Napoli that they will have to stump up close to €5 million if they are to sign goalkeeper Pepe Reina on a permanent deal.

The 31-year-old Spain international is currently on loan with the Serie A side having been deemed surplus to requirements at Anfield following the £9 million summer signing of Simon Mignolet.

After 25 appearances for Napoli, Rafael Benitez is now keen to tie down the former Villarreal goalkeeper on a permanent basis, although he faces competition from La Liga heavyweights Barcelona, who are searching for a replacement for the departing Victor Valdes.

Liverpool are under no pressure to sell Reina, with the Spaniard contracted until 2016, although the Reds are willing to listen to offers of around €5m for a player that is not seen as having a long-term future at Anfield.

Should Napoli fail to tempt Reina to extend his stay in Italy, Benitez’s side could move for Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone as an alternative target.

The 25-year-old has been earning rave reviews for his performances for the Black Cats this season, with Napoli having previously been interested in signing him during his Arsenal days.

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