Barcelona have moved ahead of Manchester United in the race to sign Arsenal FC defender Thomas Vermaelen with Arsene Wenger unwilling to strengthen direct rivals.

Thomas Vermaelen’s future at the club has come under increased speculation this summer after the Belgium international dropped down the pecking order at the Emirates. Manchester United are keen to sign the Arsenal captain, but Wenger is unwilling to strengthen their direct rivals and will prefer to sell him to Barcelona, who are also monitoring Vermaelen’s situation at the Emirates.

The 28-year-old joined the Gunners back in 2009 and quickly established himself in the first team squad. After the departure Cesc Fabregas in 2011 and Robin van Persie in 2012, the former Ajax defender was promoted as the captain of the side, as he displayed leadership skills at the back. But Vermaelen’s performances went downhill after being honoured with his responsibility. He committed some glaring mistakes and also struggled with his fitness eventually.

Following the arrival of Per Mertesacker, the Belgium international has been relegated to the bench, while the German international and Laurent Koscielny became the preferred choice for Arsene Wenger at the center of the defence. The duo has been in impressive form since then and Vermaelen is failed to break into the first team last season.

The Belgium international has already expressed his desire to leave Emirates in search of regular first team action, and both Manchester United and Barcelona are interested in signing him.

The Red Devils are in desperate need to strengthen their defence after the departure of Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand. Louis van Gaal is an admirer of Vermaelen’s versatility and sees him as a perfect fit in his three-man defence. Initial reports suggested that Manchester United have agreed terms with Vermaelen regarding a move this summer, but that was until Barcelona came into the picture.

Vermaelen was linked with the Spanish giants last summer as well and they are once again interested in signing the former Ajax defender. The Catalan club are in need to strengthening their defence following the departure of Carles Puyol. Luis Enrique is keen to make him his second defensive signing this summer, following the arrival of Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia.

Arsene Wenger has accepted that Vermaelen could leave the club in this transfer window, but is unwilling to strengthen their direct rivals Manchester United, especially after the Robin van Persie saga. The Frenchman will prefer to sell to Barcelona and according to latest reports Vermaelen is set to complete a £10m move to the Spanish club.