Arsenal interest tempts Samba to meet ambitions

Blackburn defender dreams of Champions League action while Valencia winger Mata is close to Emirates switch
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Chris Samba last night said he would be lying if he were not attracted by the prospect of leaving Blackburn Rovers to play in the Champions League.

The 27-year-old defender has long been linked with a move to Arsenal, although he argued that the lure of playing in Europe's premier club competition was greater than that of a specific club.

"At the minute I am at Blackburn but we will have to see what happens," Samba said after Blackburn's 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa in the semi-finals of the Barclays Asia Trophy last night. "If you have a player who has no ambition to play at a higher level, then he made a mistake and chose the wrong sport. He should do something else.

"When you are a footballer – or if you play any high-profile sport – you should be ambitious. It is difficult at the moment but I am just waiting to see what happens and concentrating on my pre-season preparation.

"I don't know about Arsenal as I am not the one who is dealing with it," he added. "I'm just trying to get myself fit. Of course, I would like to play in the Champions League, which player does not dream of that? It would be a lie if I told you everything was good and that I didn't want to play in the Champions League. That would be a big lie. Every player wants to do that."

Although Samba said the Blackburn manager, Steve Kean, was "ambitious for himself and his squad", his relationship with his manager has not been an easy one. Samba was more outraged than most by the sacking of Sam Allardyce in December and was stripped of the captaincy on Boxing Day when he asked to leave the club, only to sign a new four-and-a-half year contract six weeks later.

It seemed to galvanise the centre-half into a string of fine displays that took the club away from relegation danger and saw him linked with Arsenal, for whom a centre-back of Samba's presence has long been a priority.

While in Hong Kong, Kean has said his ambition is to take Blackburn back into the Champions League, although since this is a long-term ambition, Samba is unlikely to want to wait to see if it comes to pass.

Arsenal are close to signing the Valencia winger Juan Mata, a move that will pave the way for Cesc Fabregas to join Barcelona. Mata was reported to be in London yesterday for talks with club officials after Arsenal met the £17m release clause in his contract. He has already won 11 Spain caps and was a key member of the side that won the Under-21 European Championships last month.

Meanwhile, Theo Walcott has been sent home from Arsenal's training camp in Germany for a scan on a persistent ankle problem. Arsenal hope Walcott will be available for the club's opening Premier League fixture at Newcastle United on 13 August. However, the ankle he injured while playing for England against Switzerland has not completely recovered. "It is an ankle injury that comes and goes," said Wenger. "We need some more investigation because sometimes he is completely free of it and sometimes it affects him."