Cole's loyalty faces £10m Real bid test

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The Independent Online

Arsenal fans may have been looking for something emphatic, but Ashley Cole's vow of fidelity to the club yesterday was less than categorical. He has repeatedly been linked with a summer move to Real Madrid, and fresh reports indicate that the Spaniards are prepared to offer about £10m for the England left-back.

"Cole will be one of those players that Real Madrid fight for at the end of the season," a Real official said yesterday. "We will talk to Arsenal first to let them know of our interest."

Cole said: "It's been in every paper since the start of the season and there's nothing I can do. People are going to write stories and I've just got to get back [to fitness]. That's my main aspiration at the moment and I want to win trophies with Arsenal."

An element of resignation about the ways of the media is perhaps only natural, but his response to a direct question about next season's move to Emirates Stadium seemed wilfully evasive. "I signed for three years," he said, "and I'm looking forward to playing at the new stadium."

Cole's contract, signed last summer in the wake of an approach from Chelsea, expires in July 2008.

Arsenal, without question, have suffered in the three months Cole has been absent with a broken metatarsal. "We miss Ashley very badly," Thierry Henry said. "We know what he can add to the team when he comes back."

Speaking at the unveiling of a mural at Arsenal Tube station commemorating the move from Highbury, Cole said that his recovery was going well. " It's been a hard few months trying to get fit," he said. "But I'm looking forward to getting back playing. It's a hard injury to come back from because it's a bone which normally bends and you have to get used to having a screw in it."

Cole is expected to continue his comeback in Arsenal's reserve game away to Leicester on Tuesday.

The Gunners are six points behind rivals Tottenham in fourth place and are also fighting on three fronts in the cup competitions both at home and abroad. And Henry insisted ending the Highbury era on a high was the top priority.

He said: "Obviously winning the League is going to be a massive task but on the other side we are still in the Carling Cup, we are still in the FA Cup and we are going to have an important game against Real Madrid in the Champions' League.

"So it is still possible to bring some silverware back to Highbury. We are going to try our best to bring something back because obviously this season is going to be extra special for the fans and for the club's history.

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