Henry: ‘Arsenal can win the Premier League’
Not for the first time, Arsenal fans have been left wondering whether the absence of Thierry Henry may have cost them trophies.
Two Emirates Cup successes are, of course, all that have swelled the Gunners’ trophy collection since their talismanic record goalscorer left to join Barcelona in 2008.
Asked if he felt his former club were capable of winning the Premier League for the first time since he helped them to the title in 2004, Henry replied: “I’m a fan so I want them to win. I would say yes.”
From the groans that greeted the final whistle, it looks as if not too many Gunners fans share their idol’s optimism.
And Arsene Wenger’s side would surely have added a third Emirates trophy on Sunday had officials not refused to sanction their plan to field Henry in a Gunners shirt one last time during the second half of their game against the Frenchman’s current employers, New York Red Bulls.
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The proposal, rejected by referee Kevin Friend, was probably based on sentiment more than anything else but, while Henry might have had a lesser influence on the Arsenal front line than in years gone by, his importance to the Red Bulls is undeniable.
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The Gunners seemed to be coasting to victory and top spot in the final table until five minutes from the end, when the 33-year-old’s creative skill set up a shock equaliser and clinched the cup for New York.
True, it was only a pre-season trophy that slipped from the Gunners’ grasp, but the presence of Henry can only have served to remind disgruntled Arsenal fans of the days when their team boasted the clinical ability to kill games off.
That is a failing the Emirates Stadium crowd witnessed twice over the weekend, with Arsenal throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Boca Juniors before their stalemate against the New Yorkers.
Unlike Arsenal, the Red Bulls are more than halfway through the league campaign and their superior fitness sometimes showed – yet the hosts should still have had enough in terms of quality to beat them.
“That was the plan,” said Henry, referring to Arsenal’s proposal for him to switch sides. “They asked me and I said ‘yes, why not?’ but they have some weird rules in this competition.
“But it doesn’t matter, I’ve played enough games in the shirt and I always try my best to give 100 per cent. It was kind of mixed emotions, when you want to get forward and the fans are cheering.
“I have a great relationship with the fans here at the Emirates, so it was weird, but this is a big one for us – now we want to get in the play-offs.
“We had to defend and it was difficult. You have to give those guys some credit – we don’t have too many in the squad so a lot of them had to play 90 minutes twice.”
Although Arsenal should have had a penalty when new signing Gervinho was sent sprawling by Red Bulls defender Chris Allbright, it was Henry who went closest to opening the scoring, curling a deft free-kick that Wojciech Szczesny sprang to his right to push away.
But there was little Szczesny’s opposite number Frank Rost could do three minutes before half-time when Tomas Rosicky floated in a free-kick for the unmarked Robin van Persie to head home.
Gervinho and the impressive Aaron Ramsey had opportunities to extend the Gunners’ advantage, but Henry had other ideas, threading a pass through for Roy Miller to deliver a cross that was turned past Szczesny by the lunging Kyle Bartley.