Arsenal are preparing to table an audacious bid for Wayne Rooney later this week, Goal can reveal.
The Gunners have privately been given encouragement that Manchester United could be willing to sell them England’s talisman in the last week of the window despite their public insistence that he is not for sale at any price.
Goal understands that United are now determined not to sell Rooney to Chelsea, whose manager Jose Mourinho has given the striker until Wednesday at the latest to force through a move to Stamford Bridge.
However, the Premier League champions are believed to be open to a £25 million-plus offer for the player from Arsenal, who they do not regard as a fellow title challenger.
Arsene Wenger is poised to make his move at the end of the week if, as expected, the Londoners secure qualification for the group stages of the Champions League by overcoming Fenerbahce at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night after winning 3-0 in the first leg in Istanbul six days ago.
It is expected that Wenger will sanction a bid of bid around the £25m mark for Rooney, who has been the subject of two formal offers from Chelsea this summer.
United manager David Moyes has insisted that the club do not want to sell Rooney and maintained that stance after the 27-year-old’s impressive display in the goal-less draw against Chelsea on Monday night in what was his first start of the season.
Goal has learned that a third Chelsea bid for the England international would now be rejected out of hand, despite United's mooted interest in Blues playmaker Juan Mata, because the west Londoners are regarded as a direct rival for the league title.
However, United are believed to be more amenable to a move from Arsenal and a shock switch to north London in the final days of the window has not been ruled out by sources close to the situation.
Arsenal are 9/2 with Paddy Power to sign Wayne Rooney
The Gunners also made an enquiry for Real Madrid’s Benzema last week but they accept they have run out of time to capture the France international this window given the complex chain of events required to take him to the Emirates.
A move for Rooney had been on the backburner but it is now firmly back on the agenda given the informal indications Arsenal have been given that the player is both available and would be interested in a surprising switch to north London.
Moyes has spoken warmly of Rooney’s attitude in training and his general work ethic but the player is still believed to be seeking a fresh challenge at an established Champions League club.
His name was chanted throughout Monday’s game by both United and Chelsea fans, while Mourinho said afterwards that he needs to go public if he still wants to move to Stamford Bridge or the Londoners will complete the signing of another striker, understood to be Samuel Eto'o.
"The person that started the story has to finish the story," Mourinho observed. "A club like us, a manager like me, the people that work in the club with me… we are not silly to try to get a player from a big club that doesn't sell what they don't want to sell.
"We are not silly to try something if somebody didn't start it. So I think it is time for the good of everyone to finish the story. For one side, for the other side."
Asked to clarify whether he would like Rooney to state publicly if he wanted to quit United, Mourinho replied: "Yes, I would like. We are going to close another player if he is not coming.
"It depends on this [Rooney's decision]. It depends on his reaction and his feelings. If now he doesn't want to leave, we are out of the thing. But we need to know. We need to know what is happening."
Mourinho said he would wait "24 hours, 48 hours". Pushed on why he had said Rooney had started the transfer saga, he made it clear that Chelsea had been encouraged to pursue the player. "I know because I know." The information, he said, had been passed to Chelsea because "he told somebody who is very important in his career".