Arsene Wenger is hoping to persuade Manchester United to include either Phil Jones of Chris Smalling in any deal to take Thomas Vermaelen to Old Trafford, reports The Daily Mirror.
Louis van Gaal is seemingly set on signing the Arsenal captain and has already seen a £6 million bid knocked back by the Gunners. With just one-year remaining on his contract, it appears Arsenal are keen to sell for the right price even if it is to a direct Premier League rival.
Arsenal are believed to be holding out for around £12 million for Vermaelen, but Wenger is keen to make sure he has a replacement in the pipeline before he allows him to leave. Now the Arsenal boss is hoping to kill two birds with one stone and negotiate a swap deal for one of Manchester United's young defenders.
Wenger has held a long-term interest in both Smalling and Jones, making an enquiry into the latter's availability earlier this summer. Arsenal tried to sign both players from Fulham and Blackburn respectively, but lost out to a Sir Alex Ferguson-led Manchester United.
Any deal is likely to be a straight swap as Jones and Smalling would both be considered worth as much as Vermaelen due to their young age. However, whether Van Gaal would be willing to part with one of the stars is another matter.
It would not be unfair to say that Jones and Smalling have not developed as Manchester United had hoped. Together they cost the club around £29 million, but are still struggling to convince. But with only three recognised centre-backs in the squad, Vermaelen would come in to complete a set of four. Exchanging one of his current stars would make little sense.
However, if Mats Hummels signs from Borussia Dortmund, all of a sudden there is an excess. As Manchester United don't have the commitments of European football next season, Van Gaal may be looking to keep a close-knit squad, which would mean Smalling, Jones of Jonny Evans would be out.
Cash deal likely
A cash deal for Vermaelen remains most likely simply because Manchester United have the money to spend. Having already spent £60 million, Van Gaal is reported to have as much as £100 million left to spend. At £12 million, Vermaelen represents a low-risk, potentially high-gain option.
Meanwhile, losing a young and talented defender to a direct rival like Arsenal could prove disastrous. Although their progress is slow, both Smalling and Jones have enough time on their hands to reach their massive potential. Seeing them do so in an Arsenal shirt would be a PR nightmare for Manchester United, especially if Vermaelen continues his indifferent form at Old Trafford.