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The Gunners have stepped up their pursuit of the Swansea City central defender, who is also attracting strong interest from Liverpool, while Barcelona target Thomas Vermaelen

EXCLUSIVE
By Wayne Veysey | UK Correspondent

Arsenal held talks with representatives of Swansea City defender Ashley Williams last week, Goal.com can reveal.

Williams' camp visited the London club for discussions as Arsenal stepped up their interest in the centre-back.

The Gunners are ready to go head to head with Liverpool this summer in a bid to prise the £12 million-rated defender from Swansea.

Arsene Wenger is a big admirer of the 28-year-old, who he believes has the calibre and battle-hardened Premier League experience to beef up a defence that has been found wanting against the leading clubs this season.

Arsenal are also keeping close tabs on highly rated Marseille centre-back Nicolas N'Koulou, 23, who has admitted he could leave the French club this summer.

The north Londoners are preparing for an overhaul of their back line this summer, with a new goalkeeper, right-back and leader of the central defence their main priorities.

As revealed by Goal.com, Arsenal have already made an enquiry to sign Sochaux right-back Sebastien Corchia and they have now begun formalising their central defensive plans.

Williams turns 29 in August but he has played the best football of his career over the last two seasons, playing an instrumental role in both establishing Swansea as a Premier League club and their League Cup triumph this season.

Arsenal face strong competition for the Wales captain from Liverpool, who have targeted Williams to reinforce a defence that is likely to be deprived of Martin Skrtel and Sebastien Coates this summer, as well as the retiring Jamie Carragher.

Liverpool can offer Williams a reunion with his former manager Brendan Rodgers as well as a nailed-on first-team spot, although Arsenal are increasingly likely to be able to provide the carrot of Champions League football.

The Gunners made a deadline-day bid for Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Amorebieta in January but the Venezuelan, 28, had dropped off the radar even before agreeing to sign for Fulham. 

Arsenal, who will allow veteran Sebastien Squillaci to leave on a free at the end of the season, have no plans to sell Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny but could be willing to listen to offers for Thomas Vermaelen, who is attracting strong interest from Barcelona.

The runaway Spanish league leaders are in the market for a left-sided centre-back and the Arsenal club captain is believed to be one of those on their shortlist.

Vermaelen, who is rated in the £15m bracket, was axed from the Arsenal team in March following a series of mixed displays and only regained his place against Norwich City last Saturday due to Mertesacker's suspension.

The German returns to the squad for the Premier League visit of Everton on Tuesday.

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