Wenger furious at Chelsea over Cole

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger yesterday launched a scathing attack on Chelsea for their alleged involvement in the "tapping up" of Arsenal's Ashley Cole and warned the Premiership's runaway leaders that their financial might did not allow them to ride roughshod over the game's regulations.

Arsene Wenger yesterday launched a scathing attack on Chelsea for their alleged involvement in the "tapping up" of Arsenal's Ashley Cole and warned the Premiership's runaway leaders that their financial might did not allow them to ride roughshod over the game's regulations.

The dispute over Jose Mourinho and the Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon's alleged meeting with Cole last week has even overshadowed tonight's momentous visit of Manchester United to Highbury. However, Wenger warned Chelsea that despite their alleged approach to Cole - carried out without the permission of Arsenal - the player had assured him he would sign a new contract to stay at Highbury.

In a withering attack on Chelsea, Wenger admitted that the prospect of one of his players being the subject of an illegal approach was like being "in a film I have already seen". Although he admitted that there was no evidence the meeting took place beyond the newspaper reports he added that "it looks to me like, yes, it has happened".

Perhaps most damning was Wenger's analysis of Chelsea's business which, in the light of their announcement of £87.8m losses last week, was carried out, he said, with "no logic". He also reminded those players who were convinced that unparalleled success was guaranteed at Stamford Bridge that they should not always believe the "Chelsea hype".

Wenger said: "If I want a meeting with any player in the world tomorrow, I could get it. I can do what I want, get any player in the world where I want him, but it is my responsibility to respect the rules and to ask permission from the club who has the player under contract. If Chelsea want Ashley Cole they have enough intelligent people to call us to ask to speak to Ashley. If somebody has not respected the rules, it is not Ashley, it is Chelsea.

"There is a code of conduct between the big clubs in England. They know they have enough money. If they want to buy Ashley Cole, they can make us an offer. They know they will have to sit down with us anyway if they want to buy a player. It is tactically very bad. Behaving that way, they only pay more."

In between the barbs for Chelsea, there was no condemnation of Cole's behaviour. Wenger said he had spoken to the player before training yesterday and the 25-year-old had told him he was "fed up" with the reports of the alleged meeting. The Arsenal manager said he did not ask Cole directly if he was at the meeting because he did not expect anyone alleged to be there to admit to it.

Wenger added: "It [Chelsea's wealth] is a worry because when you see a club who makes a loss of £87m, and it doesn't matter [to them], you feel there is no logic in the way you conduct your business. It is troublesome because everywhere else your income is down to the way you run your business.

"When you have a business in which no matter how you run it you can say, 'OK, let's get £50m more in', of course it is a disturbance on the market. Any other business you have to run where your outgoings are adjusted to your income.

"The first thing is you come in, you make a big investment and you strengthen your squad. Then you weaken the opposition. How many clubs have bought players they did not need in Italy? They finished with 40 players because they just didn't want the opponents to have them."

Wenger would not accept that Chelsea represented a more attractive option than Arsenal and reminded his players that winning the Champions' League at Arsenal was a "real challenge" rather than an "easy" option. He pointed out that, even despite Chelsea's recent success, they did not have anything approaching the three Premiership titles and three FA Cups of his reign.

"It's all Chelsea hype: you take what Arsenal and Chelsea have won in the past eight years," he said. "Then don't ask me if Chelsea are the best. I go with reality, with the football we play and the challenge we have ahead of us."

On the question of a punishment for Chelsea, who could be docked points, Wenger was less militant than his chairman Peter Hill-Wood. He said: "It is for the Premier League to decide. I don't want anybody to be punished. We are in the centre of a story we have nothing to do with. The timing is not welcome before a big game. I find that coincidence a bit troublesome."

The Brazilian midfielder Edu will not now be joining Valencia in Spain and will see out the remaining six months of his contract at Highbury, while Jermaine Pennant has completed a loan move to Birmingham City for the rest of the season.

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