He added more silverware to his rapidly growing collection as the Gunners won the 2003 FA Cup, with Cole playing in his third final in a row. He came through the ranks at Highbury’s Centre of Excellence, initially as a striker, but was restricted to just a handful of appearances for the first team, with several of those coming in Worthington Cup ties when he made his debut against Middlesbrough in 1999.
An injury to Brazilian left-back Silvinho during the 2000/01 season gave Cole the opportunity of an extended run in Arsene Wenger’s first team and the youngster did not fail his manager.
His excellent performances domestically and in the Champions League caught the eye of England manager Sven Goran Eriksson who included Cole in his first England squad in February 2001, and the defender has made the left-back position his own for the national side. He has been criticised for going to ground too early at times and being rash in the tackle, but remains a vital player for Eriksson and Wenger. Ashley was a vital member of the England squad at the 2002 World Cup finals, starting each of his country’s games before they went out to Brazil in the quarterfinals. He Picked up Barclaycard Premiership, FA Cup and FA Community Shield winners’ medals in 2002 with the Gunners. By the end of the season he had made 79 appearances for the club, scoring six goals. He suffered a few injuries the following season but still managed to play over 40 games scoring on just one occasion — a memorable strike against West Brom.
His next goal was even more important for the Gunners as Cole scored against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League in the 88th minute. Apart from a red card he picked up against Leicester City in December 2003, it was a great season for Cole, who capped it off with strong performances for England in Euro 2004, earning recognition in the ‘squad of the tournament’.
With electric pace and an attacking instinct, Ashley has added an extra dimension to England’s left side. At the European Championships he was lauded for his performance against Ronaldo in England’s quarterfinal match against Portugal in particular. He was one of four England players named in the official Euro 2004 All-Star squad by the UEFA technical study group. Cole won his 32nd cap for England in the two-two draw away to Austria in a game, which saw Sven play the Arsenal man in tandem with Wayne Bridge for the first time in nearly two years. Cole has been critical of his own England form in the past, but after winning a place in UEFA’s Euro 2004 All Star Squad, surely Cole believes he is now replicating his club form on the international scene.