Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raul Albiol, Gokhan Inler are Wenger Latest Target

ARSENE WENGER is preparing to make a bid for versatile Valencia star Raul Albiol as the Gunners boss looks to replace the departed Mathieu Flamini in his Arsenal squad.

The club confirmed the purchase of Welsh teenager Aaron Ramsey last week, and the Gunners are now ready to make Albiol their second signing of the summer - if a fee can be agreed.

The 22-year-old came on as a substitute for Spain in their 2-1 win over Sweden on Sunday night that booked their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008.

And Albiol, a defensive midfielder by trade, showed his versatility by replacing Carles Puyol at centre back for the final hour of the win in Innsbruck on Sunday.

That is the kind of flexibility that has persuaded Wenger to approach the hard-up La Liga club with a bid of £5million for Albiol, who is a close friend of Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas.

He is keen to leave the cash-strapped Mestalla club which has just endured a disastrous season that saw it sack two managers in Quique Flores and Ronald Koeman and battle against relegation.

Although Valencia stayed up and won the Copa del Rey, there will be no Champions League football next season for a club which is also hampered by debts after building a new 75,000 capacity stadium which it will move to in 2009.

Leading stars David Villa and David Silva are also both set to leave, but the Gunners will be priced out of bidding wars involving Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

However, Albiol would come a lot cheaper and would provide cover for both the defence and the centre of midfield, where Flamini's departure for AC Milan has left a sizeable hole.

Wenger confirmed this week that he is not looking to sign any out-and-out defenders this summer, and put paid to a move for Hamburg's Vincent Kompany.

"I have been interested in Vincent Kompany ever since he was 16, but I am not interested in him this year," admitted Wenger. "There is nobody I need for my team's defensive department.

"I still follow Kompany's progress all the time and I know him very, very well. But he will not be an Arsenal player next season.

"I know all the good Belgian players. Arsenal are following a number of them with great interest, although I won't name names."

Another player on Wenger's radar is Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler, a 23-year-old currently playing for Italian Serie A side Udinese.

Inler was one of Switzerland's best players in their failed Euro 2008 campaign, and the Gunners may turn to him if they cannot agree a fee for Albiol, who Valencia value at £10million.

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