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By ESPN Staff

Wenger wants Cole future decided this week

Arsene Wenger wants Ashley Cole's future sorted out 'one way or the other' within a week.

The England defender looks set to be on his way out of Arsenal, the player having criticised the club's handling of the tapping up saga which engulfed both the Gunners and Chelsea in extracts from his forthcoming autobiography.

Vice-chairman David Dein has admitted tentative talks with the Barclays Premiership champions have already taken place, a reported £25million deal in the offering.

Cole, 25, was not included in the Arsenal squad which today flew out to Croatia for the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Zagreb.

Wenger, though, was at pains to stress that was more to do with the defender's lack of full match fitness rather than whether or not he was prepared to effectively cup tie a player who was about to move to be sold .

But the Arsenal manager did reveal there could be a swift conclusion to the saga, on the day Chelsea returned from their pre-season tour of the United States.

'I do not 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 the other,' Wenger said.

'This week is the last limit I can expect something to happen.'

Speaking to BBC Radio London, the Arsenal manager added: 'It is better because it gets the player 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 one day.'

Despite the back pages being dominated by the debate over just where Cole will be playing his football next season, the Arsenal manager today insisted the left-back was never in his plans for the Champions League qualifier having only just returned to pre-season training and then picking up a virus.

Captain Thierry Henry and England World Cup squad member Theo Walcott are two more who have been left behind along with injured Freddie Ljungberg, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy, Abou Diaby and suspended goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

Wenger told reporters at Luton Airport this afternoon: 'He is not fit to play. I have known for a long time that I will not play Ashley in this game because he came back late, and then he was sick

'We do not play our players before they are at a certain level of preparation.

'He is at the moment just a bit behind, the level of Thierry Henry, so any way I would not play him.'

Wenger insisted the speculation over Cole's future would not distract him from the task at hand.

'We just focus on the players who can play tomorrow - the Cole problem at the moment is not a big worry for me,' the Gunners boss declared.

'He is a great player, but a great player who does not play cannot help you.'

Should Cole leave during the transfer window, Wenger knows he would have to move quickly to strengthen his squad.

The Arsenal boss said: 'It is not a concern at the moment because if we do not sell him, we have a player. If I sell him, I need to buy.

'At the moment it is not a worry for me because I have good young players who can come out at the back - do not forget we have Clichy, Senderos, [Mathieu] Flamini 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.'

However, the Arsenal manager insisted he would not buy just for the sake of it, having been linked with both French World Cup winger Franck Ribery and Chelsea's William Gallas.

'There are plenty of players in the world who want to join us,' the Gunners boss noted.

'I am more concerned with turning down people who want to join us than negotiating with players who want to go.

'If you look at the flanks we have [Tomas] Rosicky, who is not an average player, [Alexander] Hleb, [Jose Antonio] Reyes, [Theo] Walcott... also Ljungberg - where do I put a player like Ribery?'

Upon his arrival at the Maksimir Stadium for Monday's official UEFA press conference, Wenger was again unable to escape the speculation over Cole's future.

Wenger said: 'At the moment that's not my concern at all. We've so many players who are not here - Ljungberg, Henry and Lehmann also is suspended.

'The players who can qualify us are the players who are here. There is no special need to talk about the players who are not here.'

Wenger firmly believes the travelling squad will not be unsettled by the ongoing transfer saga.

The French coach said: 'When you live at the top you have to know what is important and what is not important - you have to deal with that type of problem and still produce a performance and I am convinced we will do that.'

The stadium is very much from the old school of eastern European footballing venues, but Wenger insisted his young side would not be overawed by the atmosphere having produced superb performances in last season's run to the Champions League final at much more impressive venues.

'We are used to that, because everywhere we go we have the same atmosphere.

'The crowd will have an influence of course, but they do not play.'

Wenger meanwhile flatly rejected reports circulating from the English capital that Walcott was set for a loan move to Premiership newcomers Watford.

The Arsenal manager quipped: 'They have a lot of imagination in London!'