Cole puts focus on Arsenal campaign for second place

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The Independent Football

Ashley Cole has warned Arsenal's rivals for Champions' League qualification that the Gunners have their eye on a second-place finish in the Premiership this season.

The 7-0 thrashing of Middlesbrough moved Arsène Wenger's side to within three points of fourth-placed Tottenham, over whom they have a game in hand.

While the Highbury club may well have seen their title dreams fade as they currently trail the runaway leaders, Chelsea, by some 24 points, claiming the runners-up spot remains within reach - provided they can put together a sustained run of form.

The England defender Cole, now fit again following a fractured bone in his foot, sees no reason why the Gunners cannot continue their resurgence over the second half of the campaign.

"Realistically, we are not [now] going to aim for the top spot, but if we can keep winning all our games then we can get second," he said. "A team like Arsenal has to be in the Champions' League and there is a lot of expectation on the players."

However, the left-back admitted: "We should not get too carried away with the result against Boro, because there were a lot of youngsters out there playing against us.

"It was a good committed performance and one which we needed. Now we have to do that again in the next games which come up."

Cole came off the bench following a hamstring injury to Pascal Cygan during the first half, which marked his long-awaited return after having to watch from the stands since October.

The 25-year-old added: "I did not expect to come on so early, but it is good to be back and playing with the lads, and also getting a great result. As a footballer, you always want to be playing, but the lads have done OK when I was not playing. It's been difficult for Pascal to play left-back because he's so tall and used to playing at centre-back. I hope now people here will give me credit for the amount I get up and down the wing as much as I do.

"It is good to see the young players getting a chance now and we have all got to look forward to the forthcoming games."

Cole continues to find himself the subject of intense transfer speculation, with the Spanish sides Real Madrid and Barcelona both reported to be interested in signing him. However, the England international maintains he is solely focused on staying fit and is looking forward to playing alongside the rest of his team-mates at Arsenal's new 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium next season.

Cole, who was due to play in a reserve match last night to sharpen up his match fitness, is on a long-term deal with the Gunners, and Wenger has indicated the club would be willing to extend those terms for the highly rated defender.

"As I keep saying, I have three years left [on my contract]," the player pointed out.

"Firstly I am just trying to get fit now and then have to keep playing and we will see at the end of the season."

"Everyone can't wait to play in the new stadium," Cole added. "We are all going to miss Highbury, but you can't not look forward to playing in a great stadium like that."