Carlton Cole on AW radar

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by CARL ELDRIDGE AW will launch a £9million bid for West Ham striker Carlton Cole if Nicklas Bendtner fails a Friday fitness test, reports the Sun this morning.
They base this on quotes from our glorious leader, thus: “There is no way we can carry on with only one striker. Bendtner is being treated now and will come back on Friday for tests. If he is out For another two months, we will need to buy someone, absolutely.”

Dane Bendtner returns to the club for a series of medical tests this week after missing Arsenal’s last 14 games with a groin injury. And with Robin Van Persie unlikely to play again this season, the redtop says Wenger needs more firepower.

AW said: “There is a 50-50 chance we’ll sign somebody. Even if Bendtner is OK we will look around and if we find a good bargain we will still do it.”

Unlike other potential targets, Cole would be eligible to play in this season’s Champions League. And crisis club West Ham would not stand in the way of his departure for the right price.

But there was bad news for AW — the paper claims last night when Atletico Madrid confirmed they have signed a pre-contract deal with Gunners whizkid Fran Merida.

Midfielder Merida, 19, was regarded as the next Fabregas when he was snapped up from Barcelona in 2005. But he has run out of patience over his lack of first-team opportunities and will move to Atletico when his Arsenal contract expires in the summer. Wenger admitted: “I don’t know for certain if he has signed but I fear the worst.”

Meanwhile the Mail, reports that AW says the title race begins now ahead of the game against Bolton at the Emirates tonight.

He said: ‘One month ago, we were far from the top but we have created momentum and we have got to keep it going,’ said AW . ‘It is a good opportunity to come back close to Chelsea and we want to take it, to make it more interesting for everybody.  

‘I believe we can cope, especially with the players coming back from injuries. Let us be consistent, and then we’ll see. We’re on a good run. Let us test the resistance of other teams by producing good performances. The race starts after Christmas. I don’t think nerves play a big part in December but they play a big part in March and April.’

AW predicts that the Premier League will be won by a team earning 78-83 points from their 38 games and challenged his players to repeat their first half of the season. ‘We have played 19 and have 41 points and if you multiply that by two it’s 82 points,’ he said.

‘Chelsea have played 20 games and have 45 points. The champions will be around there – 82, 83, 84 – but we all have to play each other again. Nobody will run away with it and get 19 wins. There are six of seven teams who could play in the top four and they all play each other. That means everybody will drop points.’

‘It was up to us to get back in the race by being consistent rather than speaking about the title,’ said AW. ‘I was convinced they would drop points, but not so quickly. What was more important was how we responded to the huge disappointment we had on the day.

‘We refused to give up and continued to fight. We believed in our strengths. It was down to us to come back into a better mathematical situation and now we have to keep up the momentum.’

The Mail says AW’s half-time outburst at Liverpool, which inspired a comeback to win 2-1, has been cited as a turning point by players but the manager said: ‘What happened was more down to the quality and mental strength of the players than my team talk.

‘They have learned they can change things if they believe they can and it happened again on Sunday at West Ham. The biggest test was about mental strength and the solidarity of the players. The second thing was that the other teams dropped points in unexpected ways.

‘We know it can go the other way as well but what we have realised in one month gives us a good springboard to go further. Why should we stop here? We have great hunger. That doesn’t mean that Chelsea and Manchester United have no hunger but you need hunger to be successful. We have great solidarity and the team spirit of a side who have grown up together. We have not won anything yet and that makes us hungry.’

Back to our hunt for a striker and John Cross in the Mirror has compiled his list of top ten targets…

Mario Balotelli (19, Inter Milan, £20million)
Wenger has already admitted he is a big admirer of the Inter Milan hot shot – but has completely dismissed any chance of a deal.

Chelsea are keen and that Arsenal cannot compete in a £20million auction. “There is no chance,” said Wenger.
Transfer rating: 0/5

Edin Dzeko (23, Wolfsburg, £25million)
The giant 6ft 3in striker is top of Wenger’s wanted list. Bar none. He’s got all the qualities: he’s prolific, has pace and a physical presence. But getting him is another matter.

Arsenal have tracked him for more than a year, had a £10million bid turned down last summer and Wolfsburg value him at £30million. Furthermore, Dzeko has set his heart on a move to AC Milan. As such, the chances of Arsenal getting their man are slim.
Transfer rating: 3/5

Ruud van Nistelrooy (33, Real Madrid, loan)
On the surface, it may seem utterly unrealistic that an ex-Manchester United, Gooners hate figure could join Arsenal.

But if time is running out, things are getting desperate and players are not back from injury, then Wenger may consider it. The boss has already laughed it off but sometimes needs must…

Real Madrid are ready to let him go out on loan in January to help his fitness levels and Liverpool have pulled out of the running.
Transfer rating: 2/5

Marouane Chamakh (25, Bordeaux, £3million)
Wenger had the chance to sign Chamakh last summer – and quibbled over £1million.

Bordeaux wanted £6million but Arsenal offered £5million – and how they must now regret not going the extra yard for the Moroccan.

Arsenal have made discreet enquiries again about a deal in January and Chamakh says the Gunners want him to sign now. But it’s much more likely to happen when the striker will be available for free in the summer.
Transfer rating: 3

Andre-Pierre Gignac (24, Toulouse, £15million)
A big, powerful French international. Not so prolific this season after scoring plenty of goals last season.

There was big interest in him last summer, his value may have dropped a bit and Gignac may yet emerge as the number one target this summer because others are out of range.
Transfer rating: 4/5

Carlton Cole (26, West Ham, £9million)
The England striker is definitely on Wenger’s radar; he likes Cole because he’s big, strong and scores goals.

But Arsenal have fears about his injury record and doubts as to whether he has a long-running knee problem. That almost certainly kills off a January deal, especially as he’s currently out injured.
Transfer rating: 2/5

Gabriel Agbonlahor (23, Aston Villa, £20million)
This one is a non-starter in January. But if ever the Villa forward fancied a move then there is no bigger fan of Agbonlahor than Wenger because of his pace and ability to destroy opponents.
Transfer rating: 0/5

Eden Hazard (18, Lille, £6million)
Rather like Brazilian Wellington Silva and Anderlecht’s teenager Romelu Lukaku, Belgian starlet Hazard is one for the future.

Arsenal have been tracking Hazard for months and may follow Silva to the Premier League at the right price. But they’re all for the future.
Transfer rating: 1/5

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Arsenal fan for 40 years. Schoolboys, North Bank, Clock End then East Upper. Then Emirates. AFC dream team: Wilson, Dixon, Sansom, Adams, Pates, Brady, Williams, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry, Wright. Subs: Seaman, Eldridge, Wilshere, RVP, Ball. Manager: Arsene Chapman.