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BELGIAN Nicolas Lombaertsis the latest name to be thrown into mix as Arsenal’s urgent hunt for defensive cover picks up pace.

Experienced Zenit St Petersburg centre-half, Lombaerts 31 – who has 39 caps and three goals for his country – has been linked with a move to North London in the press in his native Belgium and in Russia.

The former Gent stopper has a contract at the Russian side until June 2018, although the club are understood to be open to offers of ‘a modest transfer fee’, according to reports.

Having torn a thigh muscle in the build-up to this summer’s European Championships, Lombaerts was one of those struck down by Belgium’s ‘injury curse’ ahead of the tournament in France – along with Red Devils’ captain Vincent Kompany and Dedryck Boyata.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been forced to scout the market for proven defensive cover after Per Mertesacker – who his boss recently called a ‘dressing room heavyweight’ – picked up a knee injury in the Gunners’ first pre-season match, a 1-1 draw in Lens.

Having undergone surgery in Germany last week, World Cup winner Mertesacker could be ruled out until the new year, and with Laurent Koscielny given an extended break after reaching the Euro 2016 Final last month, Wenger confirmed during the club’s tour of the US that he and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis were weighing up their options in that position.

Rob Holding

Bolton Wanderers youngster Rob Holding, 20, has already made the switch to Emirates Stadium this summer in a £2 million move and, unless the signature of Lombaerts can be secured, the 20 year old could find himself thrust into the starting XI for the Premier League opener against Liverpool on 14 August alongside Calum Chambers or Gabriel – although the Brazilian was forced to miss the trip stateside after a bout of tonsillitis.

Outgoing national team boss Marc Wilmots included Lombaerts in seven of Belgium's 10 qualifying matches on the road to France, while the left-sided central defender also featured twice at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Russia came calling for Lombaerts in 2007 for a fee in the region of £3.5 million when he was signed by Dick Advocaat; who then tried to re-sign the player for a fee of around £5 million during his time at Sunderland – the player opting to remain part of recently departed Zenit boss, Andre Villas-Boas’ squad.

Whether the player is part of the incoming manager’s plans, Romanian Mircea Lucescu, remains to be seen – but with 48 Champions League appearances, a UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and seven Russian trophies on his CV, Lombaerts certainly seems to have the credentials that could see him swapping the Baltic port city for North London before the transfer window closes on 31 August.

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