Arsenal's alarm bells over Ashley

Wenger insists he wants Cole to stay but split seems inevitable
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The Independent Football

Ashley Cole may feel that his relationship with Arsenal has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, but Arsène Wenger insisted yesterday that the England left-back is still wanted by the club.

"Arsenal hung me out to dry, using me as a scapegoat to get back at Chelsea," said quotes ascribed to Cole yesterday morning, in reference to last season's inquiry into Chelsea's illegal approach for the player. Reports said the quotes, which amount to a transfer request from Cole, are to be used as publicity material for his forthcoming autobiography.

"The board 'rewarded' me with an insult and threw years of loyalty back in my face," the story went on. "I'll reveal the shattering truth about who fed me to the sharks. It changed my view forever on the club I regarded as family."

Wenger, though, said Cole had a debt to Arsenal. "When we look at Ashley Cole we can say Arsenal have helped him a lot," he said of the player who came through Arsenal's youth system.

"He has two years on his contract and unless we sell he has a future," Wenger added. "I want him to stay but you need him to stay. Nothing is decided yet and for me he is just an Arsenal player like everyone else. Football players are there to play football."

The Arsenal manager was speaking after his side opened their pre-season campaign with a 0-0 draw at Barnet, while, coincidentally, Cole was marrying the pop singer Cheryl Tweedy at Wrotham Park, just down the road.

Barnet, introduced to the near-capacity crowd as "wearing our new-style black and amber" and clearly being familiar with their own set-up, had the good sense to kick down the slope in the first half. Their attack was led by a man bearing a name which used to mean a great deal to Arsenal fans - Vieira. In this case, though, it was Magno Vieira.

On the whole Arsenal ran things, and should have been a goal up in the first couple of minutes. Jérémie Aliadière's volley was turned away by the Barnet goalkeeper, Lee Harrison, who also blocked the follow-up by Nicklas Bendter. Harrison also did well to foil Alexandre Song's attempt to lob him after the Arsenal midfielder had muscled Nicky Bailey aside.

When Bendter next got clear, but allowed the ball to run free, there were frustrated cries from the large Arsenal contingent of "liven it up" and "pull the trigger".

Aliadière missed a couple more and Alexander Hleb side-footed wide, but the most startling miss of the opening half came from Barnet's much-travelled veteran, Andy Hessenthaler. After he had bustled into the Arsenal penalty area, his attempt to strike at goal produced nothing better than an embarrassing air shot.

The interval and second half produced the flurry of substitutions familiar to such occasions, offering Arturo Lupoli the opportunity to miss almost as many chances as Aliadière. The Frenchman almost scored, slaloming downhill so rapidly he looked in danger of invading the cricket match. As ever, his shot was blocked.

Ismail Yakubu's header from a free-kick had the ball in the Arsenal net in the 67th minute, but the effort was ruled out, and a minute later, when Lupoli turned the ball past the substitute Barnet keeper, Ross Flitney, he was given offside.

When Flitney hurt his back, Barnet asked, and received, Arsenal's permission to send Harrison back into goal, and his first contribution was to slide out of the area to handle. Nothing was given, since Barnet had no keepers left. It was that sort of day. Goalless, too. At this rate, people will be chanting "boring, boring Arsenal".