Manchester United have been given the green light to move for Thomas Vermaelen after Arsène Wenger admitted the Arsenal captain could leave the club before the close of the transfer window. However, United face competition from Barcelona for the Belgian defender’s signature with Arsenal preferring to sell abroad and not to a direct rival.

Although the 28-year-old has a minor hamstring injury he suffered with Belgium during the World Cup it is understood this is not an issue in any potential deal.

Vermaelen, who would cost around £12m, would be the first signing identified by Louis van Gaal since he became manager, as Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera were selected by the previous manager, David Moyes. Their respective transfers were signed off by Van Gaal.

The Dutchman wants to sign two central defenders following the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and is an admirer of Vermaelen, who would play as the left-sided centre-back in a 3-5-2 formation.

Arsenal would prefer to sell abroad though, with Barcelona firmly interested in making a move.“At the moment, Thomas Vermaelen is here,” Wenger said. “He is injured at the moment for a short-term injury. It [a transfer] could happen, yes. It’s a possibility that he goes. If he goes, we have to replace him because he’s an important player in our squad.”