Absence of Henry adds to Arsenal injury crisis

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The Independent Football

Arsenal will start their Champions' League campaign without a host of players at their disposal including their captain after Arséne Wenger admitted that Thierry Henry will not be sufficiently match-fit to play in the first leg of next week's third-round qualifier.

The Gunners are likely to play Dynamo Zagreb ­ who lead Ekranas 4-1 after their second qualifying round first leg ­ on 8 or 9 August, but the manager feels it will be too soon for his French striker, who was given extended leave after the World Cup having reached the final, and only returns to training today. "Thierry will be short [of fitness]," Wenger said. "He comes back on August 2, so it is very short until August 9."

Arsenal returned from their pre-season training camp in Austria where they signed off with an 8-1 win over Third Division Schwadorf on Monday but neither new signing Tomas Rosicky nor Theo Walcott played. Rosicky will be fit for next week but there are doubts about Walcott.

"Tomas is OK," Wenger said. "Theo's had a virus, so he's not practised well ­ we've had to build him up. I may give him a run-out on Friday [in a friendly against Alkmaar]. The fittest players will play [in the qualifier]." They will not include goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, who is banned after a red card in last season's final.

Gaël Clichy (foot), Philippe Senderos (shoulder) and Abou Diaby (ankle) will all miss the first six weeks of the season. Diaby, who suffered a fracture in May, is recovering well but will not be rushed back. Freddie Ljungberg is also unavailable with an ankle injury and likely to miss Arsenal's Premiership opener against Aston Villa but return soon after.

Whether Wenger has his left-back, Ashley Cole, available at all this season is debatable but not something the manager is happy to discuss as the saga of a possible move to Chelsea drags on. "If Ashley is going to be sold he will be informed ­ and if he is staying he will be informed," Wenger said. "He is still under contract, and no one else will decide what he does."

Cole made a brief return to the training ground on Monday before going home saying he was unwell. This has been seen as perhaps being a farewell to some of his team-mates. Chelsea, with whom talks have taken place, are expected to sign him after his relationship with Arsenal was damaged by the publication of extracts criticising the club from his autobiography.

* Martin O'Neill is said to be a step closer to being the new Aston Villa manager. He could be appointed by the end of the week after having talks with chairman Doug Ellis. American billionaire Randy Lerner, who wants O'Neill as manager, is ready to table a £64m offer to buy out Ellis, according to reports last night.

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