The very second the final whistle blew on Henry’s season with New York two weeks ago I wondered how long he would go on vacation before returning to London Colney for training. And in the run up to the North London Derby when I was wondering which of the current players on Arsenal’s roster would play the role of Tony Adams in indoctrinating the new guys on the importance of beating Tottenham, I couldn’t think of anyone so instead had imagined a video conference call between Henry and the team. Henry would be there on the screen, smiling, and telling the players how he likes each of them and then suddenly his face would grow dark and serious and he would describe the moment for which he was immortalized in front of the Emirates.
So, when camera’s cut to him in the stands for Arsenal’s 5-2 win over Tottenham I was only slightly surprised: I figured him to phone it in, but instead he showed up in person. And when I saw that Stuart MacFarlane had captured him shaking hands with Thomas Vermaelen and Arsene Wenger before the game I knew that it was only a matter of time before we saw Henry in the Purple and Black.
And now, Arsene Wenger has played his hand a bit and pretty much admitted that the club are looking to take Henry back for a third, and well justified, spell at the Arsenal. Immediately, there’s a lot of talk about Thierry’s old legs, tired legs, and the pace of the Premier League. The same talk that we heard last season before he re-signed with Arsenal and then went on to score three goals including two game winners: against Leeds in the FA Cup and in the final minute of the 2-1 win over Sunderland.
It cannot be understated that that goal against Sunderland, what should have been his 229th career Arsenal goal, secured the win, without which Arsenal would not have finished above Tottenham and would not be facing Montpellier in the Champions League tonight. Rising between two defenders, Henry simply stuck a leg out and directed/dribbled Arshavin’s cross into the net. It wasn’t a spectacular goal by Henry’s standards, in fact it looked a bit like a shadow of his former self. And while I would agree that 35 seems old for a team like Arsenal and that Henry may have bandy old legs, you have to admit on the evidence above that they are bandy old legs with the touch of the angels.
Henry is also the consummate professional. This is a multi-multi-millionaire who has won every important team and individual trophy imaginable and who took just two weeks off after the end of his MLS season before asking to train with the Arsenal. I believe in leadership by example and there is no better example for Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere than to have Thierry Henry around. That alone is worth the signing fee.
And Arsenal signing Henry and another striker aren’t mutually exclusive prospects though given Arsenal’s recent history they are understandably being spoken of as such. If Arsenal take Henry on loan they could still buy Falcao/Cavani/Dzeko/etc. the very next day. But when they don’t and Wenger uses Henry as the reason why he didn’t but a striker, that means that you can enjoy Henry’s return while simultaneously arguing that maybe Arsenal should have bought another striker as well.
But there is a certain logic to taking Henry on loan in January and waiting until summer to sign the big name striker of everyone’s dreams. Putting the monetary considerations aside (and they are significant), displacing a center forward from another system and different teammates, bringing him to England in the dead of winter, and throwing him in at the deep end of a Champions League relegation battle is not normally the way you want to do business. Better to bring Henry in and have him act as stop-gap until Arsenal can get the player they really want this summer (for a more reasonable price) and have some time for getting him acclimated to the system.
Whatever we think of Henry’s legs, whatever we think of Arsenal’s parsimony (Arsemony?), Henry still has it, folks, that rare something that separates the good players from the great players. But in the end, there’s really only one reason why Thierry Henry should return to the Arsenal first team and that’s to have one more crack at setting his goals record straight.
In last season’s spectacular comeback, Theirry Henry scored three goals to bring his total to 229 career Arsenal goals. 229 is a prime number. It’s a prime twin with 227 and it’s a prime triple with 233. But instead of letting Henry have 229, the Premier League reduced Henry’s goals haul to 228 when they took away his goal against Blackburn presumably because they wanted to increase Scott Dann’s Own Goals tally.
Henry deserves a chance to get to 229 goals. Or better yet, 233.
This match shouldn’t make anyone nervous but let’s face it, Arsenal’s Champions League form has been dreadful and Montpellier was unlucky not to get a win in the first leg.
Arsenal are only averaging 7.5 shots per game in the Champions League. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a home game or an away game: 7.5 shots per game. That’s so terrible that of the 32 teams in the Champions League Arsenal are 30th in shots per game. 31st among teams at home, just above Celtic who average 6 shots because they had to play Barcelona, who controlled something like 110% of the possession.
On the other end of the pitch, Arsenal are allowing 15 shots per game overall in the Champions League and thankfully that number drops considerably to 10.5pg against at home. But the fact that Arsenal are allowing the opposition to take twice as many shots as they are taking is quite incredible.
All of Arsenal’s Champions League stats are dreadful: 30th in shots per game, 4th in possession, 6th in pass %, 4th in short passes per game, 29th in long balls, 2nd in Aerial Duels won, 10th worst in shots conceded per game, 20th in tackles, 16th in interceptions, 26th in fouls, 22nd in shots on goal, 23rd in dribbles per game, 0 counter attacking goals, etc etc.
These stats paint a picture of an Arsenal team that are happy to sit back with the ball, pass it among their back four, and wait for the opposition to take shots on their goal. Basically, all the things that Gooners hate about the team without the cutting edge to at least make the games exciting.
Meanwhile, Montpellier was a bit of a lucky escape for the Arsenal last time. In the first half, they looked sort of in awe of the Arsenal. But as the game wore on they started to grow in confidence and by the second half, they turned the tables and I felt deserved at least a point if not all three having wasted two or three of the best chances in the game.
Montpellier are out of this competition and have nothing to lose tonight. Combined with the confidence from watching the tapes of their last game against Arsenal, they could be a very dangerous team. Younes Belhanda in particular could look at this as an audition for the big leagues.
I just want to remind everyone, also, that this is a divey little team full of actors who will look to get Arsenal reduced to 10 men as quickly as possible. Remember, Diaby was awarded the fastest yellow card in Premier League history because of their histrionics last time out.
This is an important game for Arsenal, which would ensure that the team go through to the next round. But given the exertion of the last few weeks Arsenal will likely make several changes to the lineup that started against Spurs.
Walcott is certainly out after sustaining a shoulder injury and that could mean a start for Oxlade-Chamberlain. In midfield, Arteta and Cazorla could do with a rest but I wonder if one or more of Coquelin, Diaby, and Ramsey are up to such an important game? And defensively, I think Vermaelen and Sagna could use a break from the rigors of playing Arsenal full-back meaning that Santos and Jenkinson could possibly start.
No matter who starts, the important thing is that Arsenal build off the momentum generated by the win over Spurs. Arsenal’s forwards are clicking now and the midfield is just starting to settle. That means it’s time to shore up the back line and get them reacquainted with playing in front of Szczesny.
Regardless of how Montpellier line up (and fall over)) a full blooded performance from all the players is needed tonight. Because, despite the win over Spurs, Arsenal supporters are still on pins and needles and any sign that the players aren’t taking this game seriously will be met with very vocal disapproval. If not outright rebellion.