Barcelona appear ready to make a £40million bid for Cesc Fabregas, but Arsenal are set to fight to hold on to their captain.
Fabregas, who played alongside Lionel Messi in the Barcelona youth ranks before moving to Highbury as a 16-year-old, has long dealt with the constant rumours of him returning to Spain, but always reiterated his commitment to the Gunners. Last week, however, the player himself delivered something of a mixed message when speaking at an event near the Spanish city, claiming if he ever left the Emirates it would be to wear the Barcelona shirt and he wanted his future sorted before the World Cup.
It is now widely reported the 23-year-old has already informed manager Arsene Wenger of his decision to return home, after the player is said to have been back at Arsenal's training base as part of his rehabilitation.
There are likely to be further talks as Wenger tries to persuade his talisman to stay but it appears Fabregas' heart is set on a move away.
Although there has been no official comment from the Barclays Premier League club, Barcelona continue to show little sign of letting up in their public pursuit of the Arsenal captain.
Fabregas missed the end of the Gunners' campaign after suffering a cracked bone in his leg during the Champions League quarter-final against the Catalan giants, which ruled him out of the return clash at the Nou Camp, and is set to return to action at the World Cup. Key to the midfielder's decision is thought to be whether he can fulfil his ambitions with the Gunners, who have now failed to land a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup.
Arsenal are obviously determined to keep their talisman, contracted to the club until 2014 and one of the biggest earners in the squad, but could now be resigned to losing him, and would look to secure a £40million fee for a player who has always been integral to Wenger's long-term plans.
Outgoing Barcelona president Joan Laporta was taken aback by Fabregas' comments last week, but will push ahead if a deal can be made.
"It is remarkable that the player has said that," said Laporta. "If the technical secretary [Txiki Begiristain] believes we must make an effort, we will do and will talk to Arsenal."
The Spanish side are also hoping to complete a move for Valencia striker David Villa. Vice-president Rafael Yuste added: "Negotiations are progressing well, especially in the case of Villa. The situation with Cesc is different, because even if you have the will of the player, it's important to talk to the club and if you can, find an agreement, but what makes it easier is that both players want to come to Barca."