Negotiations are finally under way for Arsenal to sell Ashley Cole to Chelsea, with his manager, Arsène Wenger, ready to use up to £10m of the eventual fee in a bid for West Ham United's Yossi Benayoun.
A move for the 25-year-old Israeli midfielder would appear surprising because Arsenal have already spent £7m on a similar player, the Czech international playmaker Tomas Rosicky, but Benayoun has been tracked by Wenger for some time.
Benayoun has also interested Liverpool, although they are set to sign Birmingham City's Jermaine Pennant for £6.2m. If and when Pennant goes to Anfield, that would leave the way clear for Arsenal to move for Benayoun, although, according to sources close to the player, there is understood to be interest from a third, unnamed Premiership club.
Benayoun, who scored last night in West Ham's 3-1 friendly win over Ljungskile in Sweden, cost West Ham £2.5m last summer when he arrived from Spanish club Racing Santander and has been a huge success at Upton Park. West Ham, who have had to fend off interest in a number of players this summer, would be reluctant to sell, especially with a Uefa Cup campaign next season but Arsenal appear keen to test their resolve.
Wenger will also bolster his defence once Cole's future is decided. Wenger last night admitted he cannot guarantee Cole will be an Arsenal player next season although he claimed Chelsea had not made an official bid. Speaking after a makeshift Arsenal beat the Austrian side SV Mattersberg 2-1 in a friendly, Wenger insisted he had not sanctioned talks with Chelsea but accepted he will struggle to hold on to Cole.
"There is nothing going on with Ashley at the moment," Wenger claimed. "I am always confident of holding on to players, but if you want me to sit here and guarantee he will be an Arsenal player next season I cannot do it. He only has two years left on his contract and we have not made any movement in that regard and when you have a player in that situation you cannot say much."
Wenger remains a firm admirer of Curtis Davies, but is adamant he will not pay the £10m West Bromwich Albion are seeking for the England Under-21 international, who is something of a raw talent. Wenger, along with other suitors such as Tottenham Hotspur, is likely to wait until closer to the transfer window shuts before making a bid for Davies. The Arsenal manager, however, needs to add greater numbers and experience to his back line, especially after Sol Campbell's departure.
Negotiations over Cole's move to Chelsea are proving delicate. Arsenal, understandably, are trying to drive the price as high as they can, especially as there are still five weeks of the transfer window left. Chelsea are still hopeful of signing Cole for as little as £12m, but Arsenal want to hold out for as much as £20m. A more likely scenario is that Cole will move for about £16m.
Cole is adamant that he wants to leave and has moved ahead of Roberto Carlos as Chelsea's first choice for the vacant left-back berth. The Brazilian also remains in Roman Abramovich's plans, and Chelsea could still sign both, but there is also the distinct possibility that the 33-year-old will get what he wants and stay at Real Madrid.
Cole fell out with Arsenal over their failure to meet his wage demands which led to the infamous "tapping-up" meeting with Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon in a London hotel 18 months ago. Cole told England players at the World Cup that he would not be returning to Arsenal.
Chelsea hope a deal will be concluded quickly so he can fly out to their training camp in Los Angeles next week. Some of Chelsea's squad fly out today but the striker Hernan Crespo hopes he will not be one of them. Chelsea have received offers for the Argentinian, who wants to return to Italy, and will let him go for free as long as a club will pay his £5m-a-year wages. Crespo's strike partner Didier Drogba may also be unsettled at Stamford Bridge. Reports last night quoted Drogba as saying: "I'm not greedy but if the price is right, I'll go."Reuse content