Wenger's one-week deadline to seal Cole deal

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger yesterday set a deadline of the end of this week for Ashley Cole's future to be decided.

The Arsenal manager gave the first indication that his patience was wearing thin over the left-back's proposed transfer to Chelsea when he said: "I don't know what will happen with Ashley Cole in the next few days. But for me certainly the deadline has come now to make a decision one way or another.

"This week is the last limit I can expect something to happen. It is better because it gets the players settled again and their mind on the team. That is what you want. When you are a fan you want the players to be focused on the targets of the club and the team. On that side it is good that it ends in time."

Cole was omitted from the Arsenal squad which flew to Croatia yesterday for tonight's first leg of the Champions' League third-round qualifying tie against Dynamo Zagreb, although Wenger maintained that it was because the 25-year-old was not fit and not because of any impending transfer.

"I have known for a long time that I will not play Ashley in this game because he came back late, he was sick and it is a normal progression," Wenger said. "We do not play our players before they are at a certain level of preparation."

Nevertheless, if Cole had played he would have been ineligible to feature in the competition for another club, which might have affected his transfer fee. The scale of that - Chelsea do not want to budge over £20m - now appears the only sticking point to the sale. "There is one thing for a player wanting to leave and there is another thing to sell a player - you need the three parties to agree," Wenger said.

Arsenal hope to secure nearer £30m for Cole but it seems certain that Wenger wants the matter completed before the start of the Premiership season. He also brushed aside concerns that losing such a high-profile player would affect his team's chances in the coming season. "We've one advantage in that we have never been a prisoner of names," he said. "There are many people who've predicted many times that we'll collapse and we've always improved. I have in my squad good enough players no matter who leaves."

Despite talking up the prospects of Gaël Clichy - who is injured - Wenger conceded that he would, nevertheless, have to buy if Cole leaves as his squad are lacking in experience.

"If I sell him, I need to buy," he said. "At the moment it's not a worry for me because I have good young players who can come out at the back. Don't forget we have Clichy, who doesn't play, [Philippe] Senderos, who is injured, [Mathieu] Flamini, who can play left-back, and [Johan] Djourou coming out.

"There are plenty of players who can play in this position, but the overall weight of the team is a bit light experience-wise to lose a player like Ashley Cole. If that happens, I will try to do something."

Also excluded from the trip is Theo Walcott while a number of experienced players - most notably Thierry Henry, who is still recovering from his World Cup exertions - are also not included.

One who is, however, is Jose Antonio Reyes with Wenger dismissing the continued speculation that the Spanish international wants to return home. He indicated that, with Tomas Rosicky not fully fit, Reyes would start - which would kill his prospects of moving to Real Madrid.

"I extended his contract last year, so that is quite clear about how I regard his future at Arsenal," Wenger said. "He is in the squad and if I decide to play him, he will play. There is no problem."

Arsenal (probable, 4-4-2): Almunia; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Flamini; Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto, Reyes; Van Persie; Adebayor.

Dynamo Zagreb (probable, 4-3-2-1): Turina; Corluka, Nowotny, Cvitanovic, Cale; Buyat, Mamic, Modric; Etto, Vugrinec; Eduardo.

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