Cole return will inspire Highbury revival claims Henry

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The Independent Football

The goalless draw with second-placed Manchester United at Highbury on Tuesday night left Arsène Wenger's men back in fifth and facing an uphill battle to force their way back into contention for Champions' League qualification, a gap of 11 points now separating them and automatic entry to Europe's élite club competition again.

The Gunners had to do without their talisman striker and captain for six weeks because of an Achilles injury earlier in the season, Henry's return to full fitness not coming until after Arsenal had then lost Cole because of a broken bone in his foot at the beginning of October.

Wenger has seen his options at left-back further hit by a similar problem to stand-in Gaël Clichy, with Pascal Cygan the latest player to have to fill in.

However, Cole could make his long-awaited return to the first-team squad in the next two weeks and is expected to be match fit by the start of February.

Henry said: "When Ashley Cole comes back, it's going to be another story as that used to be our strong side. I just think, and hope, we're going to have a better run in the second half of the season."

Henry may not have yet committed his future to the north London club - with the chairman Peter Hill-Wood yesterday admitting "at the back of my mind there is a fear he will decide to go" - but for the short-term at least, the Frenchman, whose contract runs out in the summer of 2007, remains as committed as ever to the Highbury cause.

And the Arsenal captain insisted no one was contemplating failure to qualify for the Champions' League via the Premiership, with Real Madrid up next in this season's competition.

Henry said: "We have to dig in, as we're doing. When everything becomes easier, we will try to play better, but at the moment it's really important not to concede goals and at least we did not lose against United. We've taken eight points out of 12 over Christmas. It could have been more but it could have been worse. We have to keep on going and it will be important to play well in the FA Cup and then against Middlesbrough at home."