Arsenal threaten to field Cole in European tie

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The Independent Football

Arsenal are threatening to play Ashley Cole in the return leg of their Champions' League qualifier against Dynamo Zagreb because they are growing increasingly exasperated over their transfer negotiations with Chelsea.

If Cole plays in the fixture in two weeks' time, he will not be eligible to appear for another club in the competition which would reduce his chances of leaving Arsenal this season. His manager, Arsène Wenger, has set a deadline of the end of this week for the 25-year-old's future to be resolved but talks are dragging and he wants to raise the ante.

The Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, said he also agrees with the deadline of this week - and added to the pressure himself by saying that if Cole did not sign, he had other options that he would quickly pursue.

But there is also considerable anger on Cole's side at the stance taken by Arsenal and their vice-chairman, David Dein, who has led negotiations but is being blamed for the hold-up in the sale. Chelsea are believed to have bid between £16m and £20m for the left-back although Arsenal are still hoping for more.

The likelihood is that the deal will be completed in the next few days, rendering Arsenal's threat to play Cole meaningless, although Dein is also embroiled in sorting out the future of Jose Antonio Reyes, who is desperate to join Real Madrid.

Their sporting director, Predrag Mijatovic, is understood to have flown to London yesterday to seek talks with Dein after Reyes, at his own behest, was left out of Tuesday's first-leg match against Dynamo so that he was not cup-tied.

The Spanish club are keen to push through a deal by the end of this week but have currently bid below the £14m Arsenal hope to secure for the 22-year-old.

Reyes, who has not settled in England since his move from Seville in January 2004 for a fee which started at £9m but could rise to £17m, was once again quoted in Spanish newspapers yesterday about his desire to join Real "as soon as possible". "Me and my family are somewhat tense at the moment and want to make sure things don't collapse," Reyes told AS. "I want things to be sorted out as soon as possible and I will have my mobile turned on all day on in case there are any important calls."

The prospective deals for Reyes and Cole are crucial to Arsenal who are prepared to let the players go - but at the prices they want. They will soon move into the transfer market themselves with Marseilles' Franck Ribery hoping that he now heads the list of replacements for Reyes, although yesterday Lyon offered €22m (£14.9m) for the winger. Arsenal have inquired about the French international but also retain an interest in West Ham United's Yossi Benayoun.

Wenger will also recruit another defender and although he would love to sign Chelsea's William Gallas, the chances are that the Frenchman will have to see out the remainder of his contract at the Premiership champions before he leaves. Gallas, who has one year left at Stamford Bridge and is refusing to sign a new deal, would prefer to move to Spain, where he has attracted interest from Real, or Italy. Wenger also remains interested in West Brom's Curtis Davies but will not countenance paying the £10m still being demanded for him.

Inevitably, the transfer issues have overshadowed Arsenal's achievements in Zagreb where with a young and underprepared team they swept away the Croatian champions to all but seal their involvement in the lucrative group stages of the Champions' League.

In his 100th appearance, Cesc Fabregas scored twice and the teenager said afterwards that he hoped that his countryman Reyes would stay. "He is my friend and I told him before the game that if I scored it would be for him," Fabregas, who ran over and kissed Reyes on the cheek after his first goal, said.

"I don't know [if he will stay]. Everyone has their own life. For us it would be fantastic if he stayed because he is a great player, a great guy and we want him to stay. We need players like Jose because he is very quick, very intelligent and scores goals. He makes a lot of assists and, off the pitch, he is a really nice guy and everyone loves him. But it does not depend on us."

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