Manchester United lead race to sign Aymeric Laporte in January

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Manchester United are hoping to beat Arsenal to the signature of Aymeric Laporte after Louis van Gaal expressed an interest in bringing the Athletic Bilbao defender to Old Trafford in January.

According to the Daily Express, the 21-year-old is being eyed by the Red Devils boss for a big-money move to the Premier League when the transfer window reopens at the turn of the year.

Bilbao are reluctant to part with the France U21 international, but the presence of a £34 million buyout clause in his current contract leaves the Spanish club powerless to prevent Laporte leaving San Mames in 2015.

Van Gaal spent more than £150 million on six new signings during the summer, but is showing no signs of slowing down in the mid-season window, with Manchester United chiefs ready to bankroll another blockbuster deal.

Laporte's prospective arrival would usurp the fees previously paid to Leeds United for Rio Ferdinand and to Southampton for Luke Shaw, making the Frenchman the Red Devils' most expensive ever defender.

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Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has also shown interest in luring the versatile star to north London, as he looks to solve the injury crisis he's currently experiencing at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal scouts have watched Laporte in action for club and country this season, but could now miss out on the talented youngster's services following news of Manchester United's plans to hijack the deal after Christmas.

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Laporte is just one name on an extensive shortlist of prospective Old Trafford targets, with AS Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman also high on Van Gaal's list of priorities.

The Holland international made his playing return for the Serie 'A' outfit over the weekend, and the Red Devils will continue to monitor his comeback closely ahead of a possible offer to the Italian giants in the New Year.

Meanwhile, Arsenal could be forced to turn attention to alternative targets if they miss out on Laporte, with Wenger eager to fill the void left following Thomas Vermaelen's departure to Barcelona during the summer.

The Gunners failed to recruit a new centre-back before the start of the 2014/15 campaign, and that already appears to have cost them dearly following injuries to other senior members of the first-team squad.

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