Italian champions Juventus have reportedly made the first move in the race to sign Athletic Bilbao forward Fernando Llorente. The 27 year old is believed to be a transfer target for both Arsenal and the Turin club, with reports claiming Arsene Wenger has lined up the Basque forward as replacement for Dutch striker Robin van Persie.
The Daily Mail reports Antonio Conte's side are prepared to offer Llorente £145,000 per week to play for them and if the deal does go through, it should make the striker joint top earner at the club, alongside club icon Gianluigi Buffon. And to Bilbao, the report adds, Juventus will offer no more than £5m as a transfer fee, given the player's contract expires in a few months time and he would then be available for free.
The Gunners' were linked with a move for the Spanish international at the start of the summer, when it seemed settled that van Persie, who top-scored for them last year with 30 league goals, would sign for rivals Manchester United. Subsequently, Llorente confirmed he would not sign an extension to his contract at the Estadio SanMamés, which expires at the end of the season.
The striker's contract contains a release clause of €36m (£30m) that the normally frugal Wenger would usually baulk at but it has also been reported the Emirates club will receive £35m in transfer funds in January, following the sale of van Persie and Cameroon midfielder Alex Song (to Barcelona). With that in mind, Spanish newspaper Marca reported Wenger and Arsenal as the most interested parties in Llorente's services. However, if reports of Juventus offering only £5m are true, then Wenger may be a little relieved, for he can afford to start bidding at well below the release clause mark.
Meanwhile, other reports indicate Wenger may end up completely ignoring Llorente. Sources from within the club have been quoted as suggesting a second Spanish international - Adrian Lopez of Atletico Madrid - is fast emerging as the Frenchman's favourite. The 24 year old Lopez reportedly has a £14.6m release clause in his contract, which a Goal.com report suggests Wenger will exploit to complete the signing as early as possible.
It would appear, tactically, Lopez is Wenger's choice. However, if Juventus are serious about the £145,000 per week offer, then the Gunners will need to break their self-imposed salary cap to sign the Bilbao forward... and considering they were reluctant to do that when trying to retain van Persie, it is difficult to see it happening now.