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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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By ESPN Staff

Young Gunners go for it in Champs Lge

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has every confidence his young side will be fully focused for tonight's Champions League qualifier first leg against Dinamo Zagreb despite the continued speculation over the future of Ashley Cole.

The England defender looks set to be on his way out of Arsenal, with Chelsea the favourites to land the highly-rated left-back in a reported £25million deal.

Wenger wants Cole's future sorted out 'one way or the other'' within a week, but stressed the player was not included in the squad which travelled to Croatia purely on the grounds of fitness.

The Arsenal manager is in no doubt, however, even without the likes of Cole, rested captain Thierry Henry, suspended goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and injured midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, that his players should have enough resolve to get the job done in the Maksimir Stadium tonight.

'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 declared.

'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.''

Constant transfer speculation is something Wenger has grown accustomed to.

The Arsenal manager, though, was at pains to stress there was no ulterior motive behind his decision not to select Cole, who would be cup-tied should he turn out for the Gunners in the Champions League qualifiers.

He said: '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.'

But Wenger did reveal there could be a swift conclusion to the saga, with Chelsea now having 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,' the Arsenal manager said.

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

Wenger 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.'

Although teenager Theo Walcott has also been left behind to build up his match fitness, Wenger is likely to give summer signing Tomas Rosicky a first competitive run-out.

Mathieu Flamini is expected to start at left-back, with Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor leading the attack in the absence of Henry.

Winger Jose Antonio Reyes should also play, despite again being linked with a move to Real Madrid.

Wenger has again been linked with a move for Marseille winger Franck Ribery, but maintains he is happy with the squad he has at his disposal.

'If you look at the flanks we have Rosicky, who is not an average player, (Alexander) Hleb, Reyes, Walcott... also Ljungberg - where do I put a player like Ribery?'' the Frenchman said.