By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Arsenal have made Atletico Madrid striker Adrian Lopez their No.1 January transfer target, Goal.com can reveal.
The Londoners plan to open negotiations with the Spanish club in time to secure the signing of the forward soon after the transfer window re-opens.
Manager Arsene Wenger has intensified his interest in the 24-year-old Spain international after failing in a bid to capture him in the summer.
The Arsenal boss has been encouraged by the knowledge that Adrian has a £14.6 million release clause in his contract.
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The title hopefuls will lose Gervinho on Africa Cup of Nations duty in January for up to six weeks and Theo Walcott will be free to sign a pre-contract with a foreign club at the turn of the year ahead of a move next summer, when his current agreement expires.
Wenger is a big admirer of Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente, who is out of contract at the end of the season, but the powerful forward is not regarded as a realistic target because Arsenal believe he is too similar to Olivier Giroud.
Wenger has received excellent feedback from his scouts on Adrian, who has been hailed in some quarters as the new David Villa.
Like the Spain and Barcelona star, Adrian is an orthodox striker, who has the versatility to play anywhere across the front three, and has a proven scoring record at club and age-group level for the Spanish national team.
He won the Golden Boot at the 2011 European Under-21 Championship, scoring five goals for the tournament winners, and followed that up with 18 goals for Atleti last season, including 10 strikes in the Europa League en route to winning the trophy.
Adrian also scored on his international debut in Spain’s 2-0 friendly win over Serbia in May and, after missing out on Euro 2012 selection, he figured in the Spain squad that exited the Olympics at the group stage.
The forward has fallen down the pecking order at Vicente Calderon this season after failing to agree terms on a new contract with the club, who are second only to Barcelona in La Liga. He has started only two of the club’s eight league games this season and five matches in all competitions.
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But that will not prevent Wenger from making his move. He wants a conventional front man who can complement Giroud and provide some of the goalscoring menace that has been absent since the departure of Robin van Persie.
"Adrian fits the bill for Arsenal," a source told Goal.com. "There is interest in Llorente but he is too similar to Giroud. Wenger wants a striker who is more pacy and can run in behind.
"They feel they can get Adrian for a reasonable price because of the buy-out clause. Wenger wants the deal done at the beginning of January."
Lukas Podolski, Arsenal’s other principal forward signing in the summer, has been used exclusively on the left flank this season and is not regarded as a candidate for a regular central striker role.
The same applies to Gervinho, even though he has had some success as the front man this season, scoring four of his five goals after starting as the fulcrum of the attack.
Marouane Chamakh and on-loan pair Nicklas Bendtner and Park Chu-Young have no futures at Emirates Stadium and will be sold if Arsenal’s valuations can be met.
Arsenal’s recently published financial results demonstrate that the club have cash reserves of £50m available to spend on new players next year.
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