Date: 18th August 2006 at 3:50pm
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As the clock ticks on the transfer window (a mere 12 days are left before it slams shut), we are reduced to reading the tea-leaves and the decrypt public pronouncements to try to evaluate what`s happening with this particular transfer.

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that Arsène Wenger had asked the Arsenal board to resolve the Cole case as quickly as possible ? by selling the player. The implication was clear: hurry up and seal a deal with Chelsea, as prolonging the negotiations was unsettling the squad. Wenger was said to be annoyed that Arsenal Chair David Dein was being so intransigent.

But later in the day, a new twist in the story emerged: Arsenal were trying to sell Ashley Cole to any other club than Chelsea, and had instructed agents to try to find an alternative buyer, presumably as quickly as possible in order to hasten the player`s departure. Arsenal were prepared to accept less than the pricetag that they had imposed on Chelsea if the buyer was, say, Inter Milan.

All this came on top of reports that, despite Chelsea preparing a new, improved bid, Chelsea were still not meeting the price that Arsenal had set. Chelsea had already complained that Arsenal were failing to budge. 10 days ago, they stated that they would not pay £1 more. This was mere bluff, they were prepared to table a bigger offer. Arsenal, on the other hand, were not moving.

Today, however, it is Cole himself who seems to be trying to backtrack on his previous suggestions that he would never play for Arsenal again. Releasing a statement through his management company (Stellar Group), Ashley declared that he was ready to play for Arsenal in their opening game against Aston Villa tomorrow. “I have made myself available for selection this weekend and it is now up to the manager whether he decides to play me.”

Arsène made up his mind, though, as to what to do with Ashley`s peace offering: he declined it. Although Arsène was prepared to state that “If he doesn’t go, of course he’s a great player”, he also said that “He has permission to go somewhere if he wants to do it, but if there is not an opportunity for him and the club, he will stay at the club.” But he also omitted Cole from the squad list of players for this weekend`s game.

Cole was prepared to state that “I maintain I have no problem with the fans and the manager: they have both been very supportive of me throughout my career, in particular I hope the fans understand where my grievances lie.” Apparently it was to ensure that the Arsenal fans don`t show their disapproval of Ashley Cole (on the opening game at Arsenal`s new stadium) that Cole has been left out of the squad.

José suggested that Chelsea would be signing a new left-back. Asked if he would be signing a new one before the transfer window shuts, he evaluated Chelsea`s chances with “I think so. If we do it before the 31st, we are okay”. No specific mention of the name Ashley Cole, though.

Although none of this is very conclusive, the suggestion is that the deal will not happen now. Congratulations to plucky little Arsenal, who look to have stood up to Chelsea (but will have on their hands a player who will suffer abuse from Arsenal fans for the foreseeable future. That is, if he lines up in the first team). Chelsea seem to have grown tired of Arsenal`s posturing and, whilst they have tabled a serious bid, have met with clowns on the other side of the table.

If by chance a deal should be made, it will have to be done quickly: Arsenal will want to be able to spend some of their money during this transfer window. All the indications are that there won`t be any Cole purchase. Hopefully, if that is the case, Chelsea will be looking elsewhere.