Cole will start new season at Arsenal

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The Independent Football

Arsenal said yesterday that Ashley Cole would not be leaving this summer while the defender himself declared that he intends to "honour" the two years left on his contract at Highbury.

Arsenal said yesterday that Ashley Cole would not be leaving this summer while the defender himself declared that he intends to "honour" the two years left on his contract at Highbury.

However, neither the club nor the player were able to confirm that the 24-year-old was prepared to sign a new deal, continuing fears that he may eventually leave for free under a Bosman ruling. Arsenal's vice-chairman David Dein, speaking in the wake of FA Cup triumph over Manchester United, said: "Ashley is and will remain an Arsenal player."

Nevertheless, contract talks have broken down, possibly irretrievably, between Arsenal and Cole's advisers - led by his agent Jonathan Barnett - while the Premier League "tapping-up" inquiry is due to deliver its verdict on the player and Chelsea in two weeks' time.

Dein, who made the original complaint about Cole's meeting with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon on 27 January, denied that a rift had developed with the player.

"We really have no problem with Ashley and now we await the outcome of the hearing," he said. "We've always had a warm and happy relationship with Ashley and he has with the club." Arsenal do have a problem with Barnett, alleging he wanted payments for negotiating Cole's new contract and was pushing for a trebling of the defender's £27,000-a-week pay while seeking a move for his client. Cole's advisers claim Arsenal withdrew an acceptable offer.

In the Cup final build-up, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger expressed fears it would be Cole's last game for the club. However, after the victory, Cole, who was successful in the penalty shoot-out, said: "A lot of things have been written about me in the past few weeks that aren't true. But that penalty showed how much this club means to me. I have two years left on my contract and I intend to honour those." Asked if he would be at Arsenal next season, he replied "yes".

However, it leaves Arsenal with a dilemma as they will not want to see such a valuable asset leave without a transfer fee. There has been a tendency in recent negotiations to allow players' contracts to run down - as Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg have found out - but neither would command the kind of fee that Cole would.

Dein also commented on renewed speculation that Wenger may leave once Arsenal move to their new stadium at Ashburton Grove in 2006. "His heart, desire and ambition is still with the club and we do not want him to leave," Dein said. He said Wenger would be offered a role as director of football if he tired of being a "tracksuit manager", although this is unlikely to attract Wenger, who has completed eight seasons as Arsenal's manager, winning seven trophies.

Dein said Arsenal do not intend to sell any players and captain Patrick Vieira said Arsenal need "one or two to make us stronger". Vieira said he had urged Cole to stay.

Edu is definitely leaving, probably to Valencia, but Dennis Bergkamp, 36, will sign a new one-year contract this week, Pires wants a two-year deal and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann also expects to stay, although Wenger said: "At the start of the season, I cannot guarantee Lehmann will be my keeper because he is suspended in Europe."

Arsenal are looking at Newcastle United's Shay Given and Stuttgart's Timo Hildebrand. A bid for Norwich City striker Dean Ashton has also been discussed.

Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, said he had "spoken on the phone" to Manchester United owner Malcolm Glazer and needed to "sit down and ascertain what the situation is". Ferguson goes on holiday on 1 June and will not alter his plans. "I'm not changing at my age," he said.