This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is plotting to hijack Liverpool's bid to buy £15million England winger Stewart Downing from Aston Villa.
Wenger will swoop for Downing, 26, as a ready-made replacement for Frenchman Samir Nasri, who will complete a £25m move to Manchester City when he returns from Arsenal's pre-season tour to Asia.
Arsenal's manager has vowed to keep Nasri at the Emirates but the 24-year-old has just a year left on his Arsenal contract and sources close to the deal are convinced a move will be agreed.
While Wenger will have to cope with another high-profile departure when Barcelona make a final and almost certainly decisive £35 m bid for club captain Cesc Fabregas, the Arsenal manager has been authorised by his directors to spend the full £60m Arsenal are expected to raise from selling their two stars.
Downing is in line to be the first, with the prospect of Champions League football giving Arsenal a significant advantage over Liverpool.
Capped 27 times by England since his debut against Holland in February 2005, he joined Villa only two years ago following the relegation of his first club Middlesbrough.
Wenger, who is also close to completing the £10.6m signing of Gervinho from Lyon, will also sign a centre-half. Bolton's Gary Cahill and Everton's Phil Jagielka, for whom Arsenal bid £15m last season, are the players targeted to bolster Arsenal's back four.
But Wenger still needs to settle on a replacement left-back for Gael Clichy, who has also joined City, and a midfield man to cover the exit of Fabregas. At present, Wenger only has enough money to spend £15m on either Cahill or Jagielka, but as soon as Fabregas and Nasri are out of the club, Arsenal will move to replace them quickly.
The team flies to Malaysia today to start the historic first international tour they have conducted there. Fabregas is staying at home to rehabilitate after his hamstring injury.
Yet the absence of the skipper and the iconic symbol of the club for such an important trip, which also takes in China, is hugely significant.
The trip is seen as vital to the club's commercial future and for attracting a new sponsor, likely to be from the Asian market, when the current shirt deal with Emirates runs out in 2014. Although Barcelona's bids for Fabregas so far have fallen well short of the £40m demanded by Arsenal - the highest being £27m - there does appear to be a desire from both clubs to finalise a negotiation that effectively began in June 2010.
Arsenal could face a fan backlash when Nasri and Fabregas leave given that season tickets, which are already the most expensive in the Premier League, have risen by 6.5 cent.