So there we have it. After eight years and 226 goals, Thierry Henry is no longer an Arsenal player. And for what many consider to be a measly 16 million (which as has been pointed out, is the price tag on one Darren Bent).
So what were his reasons, what were Wenger’s reasons, and where does this leave Arsenal? Let’s have a look.
Although he wouldn’t risk the wrath of Arsenal fans everywhere by saying so, his reasons are probably that although he sees this current crop of players being great in four years time, that simply isn’t soon enough for him. He needs to be challenging for major honours in the next two years, to fill his medal cabinet with, amongst others, the Champions League. And he doesn’t think he’ll get that at Arsenal.
I don’t buy his story that he was unsettled by Dein and Wenger. It continues to be a mystery why David Dein leaving seems to have had such an effect on everyone connected with the club, but I suspect there is something of a media campaign on that front – I can well imagine them asking every player if Dein will be missed, those players saying yes, and this forming the basis of a story emerging about how disastrous his leaving was. For that, it appears the ex-director has the press in the palm of his hand.
As for Wenger, he has more reason to be unsettled by board level activity than his players. But he has never signed a new contract a year before his current one expires, so unless he told Henry something in private, which I doubt as he wouldn’t have made it public, then this seems a bit like an convenient excuse.
However, the above is not a criticism of Henry. I understand his reasons for leaving and in a way I agree with them. This is not comparable to certain players that have left us under a dark cloud, this is simply an Arsenal legend feeling it is time to move on. I fail to see why people would have hard feelings towards him for that. Eight years is a long time in the life of a professional footballer at one club.
As I said yesterday, I’m not entirely convinced Wenger had much choice in the Henry sale. Once a player that prominent wants to leave, he’s leaving, and there’s very little you can do about it. I’m sure, for example, that Wenger would love Reyes to have another stab at the Premiership, but he doesn’t want to, and he won’t be forced. That is the game as it is now.
However, I suspect that had Wenger been able to crack the whip and demand he stay, he wouldn’t have anyway. He has too much respect for Henry, and realises that times change and no one is irreplaceable, not even the club’s talisman. It would be a disappointment, no doubt – it is clear that Wenger was resting Henry for this season, to give him the extended break he needed and deserved. To have another club benefit from that is galling, but it is also football. Wenger had Henry’s best interests at heart, and for that reason, he would not stand in the way of his captain’s wishes.
Since Dein left, there has been a media furore, generally focusing on how the club is falling apart without him. If the press are to be believed, Henry left because of him, Wenger will too, and half the squad will be clinging to their coattails.
My take on this is that its complete garbage. Both Henry and Wenger are their own men, capable of making their own decisions for their own reasons. I’m certain that Henry is leaving for purely football reasons, and Arsene can cope just fine without his friend. It’s not as if the guy’s died, he just isn’t on the board anymore.
To me, the media are currently doing Dein’s bidding. Whether he has any influence on that or not, I have absolutely no idea. But it does seem like a convenient story – the remaining board members are now being painted as old has-beens who rejected modernising the club, and as a result Arsenal as a competitive football team is dead. I’m sure you can guess my opinion on this load of utter tripe. Dein was underhand, and while in some ways he could be seen as a visionary, he was not always right, and he also demonstrated that he is by no means a team player.
The most concerning statement that came from Henry was that part of the reason he is leaving is the uncertainty surrounding Wenger’s long term future at the club. In short, he appears to be claiming that Wenger will have only one more season as Arsenal manager.
I am not going to make a prediction about this, as the last one I made, six days ago, was this:
“I still believe Thierry will be strutting his stuff at the Emirates next season.”
My take on it is this – if Henry knows Wenger is planning to leave next summer, he would not be so disrespectful as to effectively announce it to the world against his wishes. So that tells me that Henry does not know whether Wenger is staying or going. The media certainly don’t know, so don’t believe their crisis talk, and I have no more idea than you do. So let’s just wait and see.
One thing is for sure – it is a subject that will not stop coming up until he gives us an answer. Every press conference he gives, he will be asked the same question, and he’s stuck in catch 22 land. If he’s planning on leaving, he’s got two bad choices. One, he tells everyone, but that never works out well for clubs – performances tend to dip if players know a manager is off, or two, he doesn’t, in which case he’ll have a year of questions and speculation while the media figure it out for themselves. And that does the club no good either.
Which makes me think that if he’s planning on staying, he may well extend his contract a little earlier than usual, perhaps even this summer. I look forward to hearing him speak.
The glass is half full
Over the last few days we’ve seen the full range of reactions to Henry’s departure, and it is fair to say that there are differences of opinion all over the place, with many people sitting at one extreme or another. I’m generally an optimist, and don’t tend to go in for the media-fuelled crisis panic, but some of the comment has been quite blinded. Some say Henry is past his best, was useless last season anyway, and we’ll be better off without him. To me, this is complete nonsense, and disrespectful to the man himself. Seven stunning seasons, and then an injury plagued one where he still had an excellent goals to games ratio, and we’re better off without him?
The loss of Henry is a huge one. He is irreplaceable, at least directly. The best we can do is make a stab at replacing him, and improve others areas of the team to augment the process. I hope this is the plan. But we need new signings between now and August. I’m sure we’ll get them. Wenger is not a stupid man.
The glass is half empty
On the flip side, you have the doom brigade. According to these fans (?), Henry leaving means that Wenger will leave. Cesc will follow, as will every other decent youngster we have because they all signed for Arsenal purely because of Wenger. We will slip into mid table obscurity, be beaten by Spurs, and not fill the stadium, eventually falling foul to debt and plunging Leeds-style into crisis.
Get a grip, people. We never lose to Spurs…..
In all seriousness, this set of opinion does no justice to the fact that clubs are bigger than individuals. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, but I remember watching Seaman in his prime and thinking ‘oh no, one day he won’t be with us, what’ll happen then?’. His is the strongest memory of that type I have, but the same is true all over the place. Even under Wenger, we’ve had Anelka leave, which was supposed to be a disaster, and Henry came in and knocked that one down. Then Manu and Overmars disappeared, only to fall flat themselves as we thrived with Pires and co. Finally Vieira departed, and although he wasn’t replaced as the previous group were, Cesc partially filled the void.
And so it will be again, with Henry, with Wenger when he leaves, with Cesc when he goes back to Spain, and on with the next bunch of stars that leave the Emirates behind. It’s football.
And no, we will not lose to Spurs.
Time to look forward. Much as Henry talks about it being time for Van Persie, Adebayor and Bendtner to shine, we all know that won’t be enough. We need a new striker. Not one who will be good in three years time, but one who can come in and score 15-20 next season. Of course, that’s easier said than done, with players such as Darren Bent commanding such ludicrous fees (but when did Spurs ever get ripped off for a striker that turned out to be useless *cough* Rebrov *cough*?), but it looks like the wheels are in motion.
If reports are to be believed, a new striker could be unveiled this week, and while many names are being touted around (Owen, Martins, Eto’o), the one that interests me the most is Anelka. It also appears to have the most merit.
What an irony that could be. Eight years ago Wenger sold Anelka, and picked up Henry for half the fee. Perhaps this summer, he will sell Henry and sign Anelka for, yes, half the price. He remains an admirer of Le Sulk, who at 28 should be peaking, and his form for France especially demonstrates that these may be golden years for the man who could’ve, perhaps should’ve stayed at Highbury for a lot longer than he did first time around.
As for Anelka himself, this could be the last chance he has at a big club, which should be motivation enough in itself. He is too good for Bolton, whose play does not suit his style. He thrives on speed of passing and movement, as we’ve seen before. A hungry Anelka could yet fill that void.
Of course, this is speculation. But of all the names floating around, his is the one I’d love to see return.
So what about the rest of the squad? There are two ways of replacing a great player. One, with a direct replacement – a star at the same level. I can’t see that happening here – we’ll sign the best available who’ll fit the role, but he won’t be in Henry’s class.
The second is to augment the squad to cover the weakness. The best example I can think of in Man Utd. Like him or loathe him, Van Nistelrooy was a consistent 25 goal a season striker for them, and he has not been replaced, much in the same way that Henry will not be directly replaced.
However, United thrived last season because of their midfield. The onus was removed from the strikers because the midfielders were scoring by the bucketload – all of them. The key was that they never relied on one or two players, there were threats everywhere. That’s what we need now, to field a team where the opposition fear six of them from an attacking point of view. They can then mark one or two out of the game without stunting the team, which we have suffered from in the past.
Can you think of a Premiership challenger in the last ten years that hasn’t had one of the following?
a) a 20-25 goal striker
b) a 15 goal midfielder
I can’t. Right now, we probably lack both, and that’s the hole that needs filling. Either will do. Both would be perfect, but not required. It’s the same reason Liverpool aren’t challenging for the league – they have a ten goal midfielder in Gerrard (incidentally, I believe Cesc can match this next season), and no 20 goal striker.
It’s time to steal a march on them. Thierry has gone, he needs replacing, but the focus also needs to stem backwards through the team. Being able to win a game 1-0, with a goal from a midfielder, is a lost art to us. Not to United or Chelsea. Let’s catch them.
In closing, I’d just like to say what a pleasure it has been to watch eight years of one of the world’s finest players playing for Arsenal. At his peak, he was the best player in the world, and I sincerely wish him well at Barcelona, despite his new teammates. Thanks TH14.