By Richard Clarke

Just 25 minutes of football at Sunderland on Monday has made a huge difference to Ashley Cole, according to his manager. 

The left back's run-out as a substitute at the Stadium of Light was only his second appearance in the first team since October 2 last year. He'll make his first start tonight at the City of Manchester Stadium.

"With any player who is out for seven months, there is always a doubt that creeps into your mind," said Arsène Wenger. "It is difficult to take. But you could see he is happier, freer.

"He is getting sharper all the time. He is physically behind his top, top level but he can get that through the game. The timing for England is right, for us it is not bad but he might be a little short. But at least you [England] will have a fresh player so there is some good news."

However, given Cole's recent injury history, his manager was not going predict whether he may play in the Champions League Final on May 17.

"I don't know," said Wenger. "I will leave the decision open knowing that he is a little bit behind physically. I don't how quickly he will [recover] and what type of impression he will make in the next game at City. If he plays a part or the [whole] game against Wigan then there is still 10 days after that."

7/1 - Manchester City v Arsenal - Arsenal to win 2-1

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
Richard Clarke 4 May 2006