Cole out to impress

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The Independent Online

England full-back Ashley Cole will be hoping to put an injury-plagued season behind him and concentrate on proving his fitness ahead of the World Cup when he returns to the Arsenal squad for Monday's Barclays Premiership clash with Sunderland.

Manager Arsene Wenger may have plenty of selection worries ahead of the trip to Wearside - Alexander Hleb, Gilberto, Mathieu Flamini, Jose Antonio Reyes and Theo Walcott are all major doubts, while Philippe Senderos continues his recovery from a knee problem - but the likelihood of having Cole added his defensive options is a huge bonus.

With the deadline for World Cup selection fast approaching, Cole - who has not featured for England since the qualifying defeat against Northern Ireland in November - knows he only has a limited amount of time left to show Sven-Goran Eriksson just why he should be on the plane to Germany.

The 25-year-old's last Arsenal appearance came as a substitute against Middlesbrough on January 14, when he had just come back from a stress fracture in his foot.

However, the defender was then sidelined again after sustaining a thigh strain before picking up an ankle problem during a comeback match for the reserves.

Wenger, however, is hopeful Cole's fortunes will now improve, and revealed he had been in regular contact with the England camp about the fitness of both the Gunners full-back and centre-half Sol Campbell, who started the goalless draw with Villarreal in Spain on Tuesday night which secured passage through to the Champions League final.

The Arsenal boss said: "Ashley played last night and came through well. He had no problem today, and will be available for Monday.

"I keep in touch with Sven at the moment to tell him how the .125Arsenal.375 England players have progressed."

Wenger added: "For Monday night, at the back I do not think there is a lot to change, maybe Ashley can come in.

"I do not know yet, but Gael Clichy has done well.

"At centre-back, though, Sol Campbell will play."

A trip to relegated Sunderland would have been the ideal opportunity for Wenger to blood youngster Theo Walcott, who was signed from Southampton in January but has yet to make a first-team appearance.

However, the 17-year-old striker picked up a knock during the reserve game against West Ham, which will probably rule him out of Monday's match.

Wenger said: "He got injured last night and came off after 10 minutes, but we think it will be a question of days rather than weeks.

"He has an external knee problem."

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