Aston Villa close on £28m Watkins and step up pursuit of Arsenal’s Martínez

Aston Villa are on the verge of a club-record £28m deal, plus add-ons, for the Brentford striker Ollie Watkins. Villa and their manager, Dean Smith, identified the 24-year-old as one of their primary targets and believe they have fought off competition from Premier League rivals to secure the winner of the award for Championship player of the year last season.

Watkins, who worked with Smith at Brentford, is understood to be keen on reuniting with his former manager. He trained with Brentford on Tuesday but is expected to undergo a medical with Villa in the next 24 hours.

He scored 26 goals as Brentford reached the play-off final last season, spearheading the attack after the £20m departure of Neal Maupay to Brighton. Exeter City of League Two, who sold Watkins to Brentford for £1.8m in 2017, are thought to have a £15% sell-on clause.

Villa have paid £14m to sign Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest and are also keen on the Bournemouth striker Joshua King after missing out on Callum Wilson, who joined Newcastle, but are yet to make a bid. The Brentford winger Saïd Benrahma is another player of interest but Brentford would demand a similar fee.

Brentford were open to selling Watkins at the right price after signing the Peterborough striker Ivan Toney, the top scorer in League One last season, for an initial £6m.

Villa have stepped up their pursuit of the Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez and hope to capitalise on the uncertainty around his position at the Emirates Stadium.

Martínez is Smith’s primary target for the No 1 spot and Villa have been encouraged by the lack of clarity from his employers. He is seeking considerably more playing time after deputising for the injured Bernd Leno with a string of superb performances but such assurances have not yet been forthcoming and Villa are ready to offer guarantees of their own.

Arsenal’s Emiliano Martínez celebrates Arsenal’s Community Shield win against Liverpool with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsenal’s Emiliano Martínez celebrates Arsenal’s Community Shield win against Liverpool with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Photograph: Eddie Keogh for The FA/Shutterstock

The Guardian understands Martínez, whose deal ends in 2022, has been offered a new contract by Arsenal but that the parties remain some way apart. Negotiations are ongoing but Villa are prepared to improve on Arsenal’s financial package while promising he will begin as their first choice.

Arsenal, who are believed to value Martínez at around £20m, recently rejected a bid from Villa but received an enhanced offer this week. Martínez wants to stay at Arsenal, where he has finally shot to prominence 10 years after arriving from the Argentinian club Independiente, but is aware that regular starts are a priority given he turned 28 last week. Valencia, Real Betis, Leeds and Villarreal are among a number of other sides closely monitoring his situation.

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There is little desire on Arsenal’s side to part company with Martínez and he remains favourite to start against Fulham on Saturday, having kept his place for the Community Shield against Liverpool and impressed again. But if Mikel Arteta selects the fit-again Leno at Craven Cottage it may be taken as a sign that Martínez will be allowed to move, as long as a replacement can be enlisted. The Brentford goalkeeper David Raya, who previously worked with the Arsenal goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavon, has been touted as a potential arrival should Martínez depart.

Meanwhile, the Arsenal forward Tyreece John-Jules has joined the League One club Doncaster Rovers on loan for the season..

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