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Why Arsenal should be proud of Ashley Cole this week

11:11 04 February 2013

Ashley Cole on his England debut against Albania in March 2001. Photo: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

Ashley Cole on his England debut against Albania in March 2001. Photo: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

EMPICS Sport

Even if you loathe him, the left-back is about to achieve something no home-grown Gunner ever has

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Arsenal's Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell celebrate completing the double in 2002 after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford/ Photo: Neal Simpson/EMPICS SportArsenal's Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell celebrate completing the double in 2002 after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford/ Photo: Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport

A testing question for Arsenal fans: who is the greatest player the club have produced?

Tony Adams, many would say, without much hesitation, who led the Gunners to four league titles spanning three different decades, while also captaining his country.

Adams may be a hard act to follow, but he never managed what Ashley Cole is about to do on Wednesday night, reach the landmark of 100 England caps.

Adams (who won 66 caps) need not feel too bad about that, because only six men in the history of the national game have achieved the feat, but Cole is expected to become the seventh against Brazil at Wembley next week.

Ashley Cole playing for Arsenal reserves in 2000. Photo: John Walton: EMPICS SportAshley Cole playing for Arsenal reserves in 2000. Photo: John Walton: EMPICS Sport

Of course, there is a slight problem here. Adams was a staunch one-club man for 19 years, whereas Cole infamously, controversially, and defiantly jumped ship to Chelsea in 2006.

The left-back has now spent longer at Stamford Bridge than he did as a first-team player at Arsenal, but he was a product of the Gunners’ youth academy, a boyhood fan plucked from the streets of Bow and made into a world-class player at Highbury.

It is easy to forget that 10 years ago Cole was to Arsenal fans what Jack Wilshere is now – the home-grown tenacious player among a multi-cultural squad, the cockney accent in a dressing room of foreign tongues.

By the time Cole left for Chelsea he and Sol Campbell, who departed that same summer, were almost the last Englishmen standing at the club.

Cole had learned his defensive trade not just from Arsenal’s youth coaches and staff, but also from the greats he briefly played alongside: Adams, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, and of course Nigel Winterburn, the club’s legendary left-back who left Highbury the month after Cole made his league debut in May 2000.

Cole’s progress was to be rapid for both club and country, from the moment he took his chance, aged just 19, to replace the Brazilian Sylvinho not long after the start of the following season.

By May 2001 he was crying on the Millennium Stadium turf as his dream debut season ended in FA Cup final defeat to a Michael Owen inspired Liverpool.

Cole had won his first England cap two months earlier, entrusted by Sven-Goran Eriksson in a tricky away qualifier in Albania. He didn’t let his country down then, and has rarely done since despite an off-field reputation that is, to many in the game, beyond repair.

That is most true when it comes to Arsenal fans, despite his significant contribution to two league titles and three FA Cup wins in his six years at Highbury.

The manner of his departure, the offence caused by his awful 2006 autobiography ‘My Defence’ and all the bile that has since passed between Arsenal fans and Cole in his seven years in blue have burned many bridges.

But maybe, just maybe, when Cole reaches his century at Wembley, Arsenal can take pride in their role in producing a player who has achieved so much.

And maybe they can recognise a man who, despite his graceless exit, never gave less than his all during six undeniably glorious years in red and white.

Follow me on twitter @GazetteGooner

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