Cole will stay at Arsenal, says Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is convinced Ashley Cole will stay at the club and extend his contract despite the attempts of London rivals Chelsea to prise the England fullback away from Highbury.

Chelsea were alleged to have made an illegal approach for the 24-year-old at a meeting in January between Blues manager Jose Mourinho; the club’s chief executive, Peter Kenyon; Cole himself; and his agent.

The Premier League has since issued formal charges against the player, Mourinho and Kenyon, to which they have yet to respond.

But despite the speculation that Cole is unhappy at the North London club, where his current contract runs until 2007, Wenger is adamant that one of his most prized assets will not be tempted to leave.

“I am deeply convinced that Ashley wants to stay and I will try everything to keep him here,” said Wenger. “Now we want to extend his contract at the right salary. We have to wait until this case goes through the Premier League, as his agent is involved as well.

“I know I want to keep him, the board wants to keep him and we want him to stay here and to stay happy.”

The England defender was booed by a small section of the home support during Arsenal’s comprehensive 4-1 victory over Premiership basement club Norwich on Saturday, although large sections of the Highbury crowd responded with supportive chants for the player.

“He has a committed attitude,” said Wenger.

“People are behind him here—at least 37 900 are behind him!” added the Arsenal manager, referring to the capacity at the Gunners’ stadium.

Wenger admitted that it is hard for clubs like Arsenal to compete financially with runaway Premiership leaders Chelsea, whose success this season has largely been put down to the millions pumped into the club by Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich.

“What Chelsea spend is not linked with their income, and that makes it difficult, not only for Arsenal but for everyone,” said Wenger.

“The competition is a little bit artificial wages-wise. We are in line with what other top Premiership clubs are paying and we want Ashley Cole to be in the top bracket of what international players earn at the club.

“We have our own wages scale and if I want to extend his contract it is because I want him to be here at the club, not just because of his demands.”

Wenger is also looking forward the summer when his players will be free from the strains of playing an international tournament, but he tipped England to be one of the favourites for the next major international competition—the World Cup in Germany in 2006.

“The break this summer will be important for us as we may have to play qualification games for the Champions League,” added Wenger.

“It will be important for the English national team as well—I have watched many of their games and, for me, England next season will be one of the favourites to win the World Cup.”

He also admitted that his own country, France, who could only draw 1-1 in Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier in Israel, are struggling to qualify for the finals.

“France are not even sure if they will be there,” he added.—Sapa-AFP