Now this is not an article devoted solely to Thierry Henry.
I know — just one year ago, I was gushing about the prospect of him staying till the end of his 4 year bumper contract and of him affirming his love for the Arsenal et al. The Champions League final loss suddenly seemed neutralised! All because Henry would be at the club next season.
But when he started yakking this year about missing David Dein, then about his misfounded fears of Arsene Wenger not being at the club, the saga about him going to Barcelona became very real. So, most Arsenal fans probably expected him to leave after he told reporters sometime last month that he was an Arsenal player ‘for now’. Now that he is gone, there’s nothing to do but to pick up the pieces and thrust Robin van Persie and the erratic Emmanuel Adebayor into the centrestage.
So- what’s there about Henry – there’s one thing about being a club legend but another thing to sulk and ponder about pastures new when things did not go as planned. Perhaps Arsenal had not acquired the best of personnel – Julio Baptista quickly showed the English game why he was not worth the effort in the first place; Theo Walcott is too young to perform miracles just yet although he had shown great promise with his Carling Cup final goal; Denilson is ok but needed more luck to get a chance at 1st team opportunities; Willly Gallas is far too moody and despondent at times and now that Henry is gone – it’s easy to see where he may head next; Rosicky is far too technical and artistic to be a winger but I think that Robert Pires and even Henry himself did not have much of a good start during their early days at the club. There’s a danger that Rosicky may end up being like Alexandr Hleb but given more time, he may prove critics wrong. But Henry was sure to put a sour taste in many Arsenal fans for the way he ended up the way he did. Was he even thinking about Barcelona all the time after the Paris CLeague defeat? He may have been thinking – Arsenal has a spanking new stadium and has actually the talent to reach the finals! So why don’t he just try out and see how it goes? After all, there was all the now empty talk about Arsene being promised a great war chest to bolster the squad etc..Obviously Henry was not best pleased with what he has seen – Arsenal virtually out of contention for the EPL title at the winter break and nothing had been done to plug the leaky defence during winter. So, fastforward to May when he claimed that newly-crowned AC Milan’s interest in him made him suitably impressed, there’s no prize for guessing his next move. After all, Arsenal made no move to secure any new players which would change the face of the squad– and more so after Man Ure has signed Portuguese chicken Nani to add further depth to the squad. Obviously, we remember that Henry would only sign on if the board makes effort to show that they want to win titles. When Arsene signed a Norwegian defender 16 years of age the week before Henry decided to leave, the puzzle finally had their pieces falling together where they should: This squad is going nowhere! But Henry would remain a legend even when he leaves the Barcelona contract. I don’t think that any Arsenal fans would begrudge their hero on so many occasions the final shots at CLeague glory which had denied him time and again. Arsenal fans could do well to remember that this player saved the team; won crucial games for the team (remember the last game at Highbury); and did it with style and elan. For that, he’s in the past now and no amount of ranting would see him back here.
I don’t really fancy putting a fuss about Wenger’s fiercely defended youth policy but the man is, I believe only going paranoid about Man Ure or Chelski suddenly signing a young player in the Cristiano Ronaldo mould and upsetting Arsenal again. Perhaps Wenger may have to make way now. The manner in which the club plumps up youth players is astounding – a 17 year old this week – then a 15 year old somewhere else. Doesn’t he realise that these players need a leader or a veteran to learn from? And who better to learn these from than that of the club’s own players. Freddie Ljungberg is past his prime; Jens Lehmann should not even complain if he’s playing for Arminia Bielefeld next season. I found little reason to fault Kolo Toure but he needs an alarm clock to wake him up during a typical Arsenal passing siege in the opposition goal.
To be honest, Wenger’s silence about his future is rather disturbing – but take note that his era, too had to end sometime. There’s no way of telling whether his ideas are still suitable for the Premier League, given his insistence on signing youth players almost on a tri-monthly basis and not showing the world of footballl the proper justification of the contracts with kids.
I think that the future of the Arsenal is not so bleak. The team has gotten the slide since Patrick Vieira got ineffective after a protracted wrangle at the Real Madrid transfer saga, and now Henry has dropped the bombshell – but it’s great that Robin van Persie would now have the chance to shine. Fabregas stays as long as Wenger does. Toure’s commitment is not usually in doubt (how can you believe what players say these days?). Eboue can be brilliant when he puts his mind to it. Rosicky is still one year away from being either a potentially terrific player or being Hleb. Hleb can be what he is, but he’s never Arsenal quality with the likes of Overmars and Bob Pires. Adebayor has behaved himself so far, but it’s also tough to judge as to what goes on in their minds these days. Then again, the gangly striker has shown his ability to knuckle down and chase lost causes. He’s had a good season but for his poor finishing. Flamini can leave if he wants – the new Zidane touted by Wenger has since become another Gilles Grimandi-style player and it’s frankly not amazing. Gilberto Silva had a good goalscoring season and hope that it continues. We hope Gallas stays and so far, he has kept his mouth shut- so it’s good.
It’s sad to reflect that the Arsenal has gone down the doldrums into flat muck. How the solid team envisioned by Wenger year in and year out suddenly petered out into a whimper by uneducated signings, misplaced faith in a moody team captain, a move to a new ground which had questionable morale for an inexperienced side, more signings of youth players too young and nervous to take on the higher stages of football. We can see that when Marc Overmars left, Pires came. No problem. When Anelka left, Arsenal fans also thought that their team would suffer immeasurably. Of course, Arsenal still had the incomparable Dennis Bergkamp then, and with a few new signings too complement Patrick Vieira and co, the fight for honours would prevail. But now, even the chief striker, so often relied on to supply the lifeline has shown that his reason for leaving the club is the lack of motivation. Obviously, Wenger’s silence meant much – he’s not likely to be at the Arsenal next season. Losing Henry may not be the worst thing that the club has to face, but losing Wenger is.
The club posssibly needs a new manager to move forward, however. The ideas are all gone- his tactics are eagerly curtailed by teams with little talent but lots of guile and the young team gets careless when things don’t go their way. His substitutions are regularly done too late to be of any effect. And even then, his subs are often questionable. Probably Arsene is as jaded as Henry is and after a decade at the club, he may call it a day.