As Arsenal trudged off the pitch against PSV, and out of their third competition in 11 days, one image made its way across the newspapers and TV screens from the Emirates Stadium. That of Arsenal captain and talisman Thierry Henry on his knees again, injured in pursuit of glory.
'This game is killing me,' the Frenchman apparently shouted as he made his way down the tunnel past the interviewers. However, it was his revelation that he has not played a game since October without being in pain that will shock the Gunners' faithful. Without the striker for long periods already this season, Arsenal have shown they can cope. Beating Manchester United at Old Trafford with an exceptional performance, Arsene Wenger has relied on Emmanuel Adebayor to lead the line more than the Frenchman, who has not managed to reach his usual top scorer accolade - that honour falling to Robin Van Persie. That said, Henry's stats are pretty impressive, having scored 12 times in 24 games and he continues to be a psychological threat to the opposition, even if physically he has been found wanting. To sell Henry in the summer would not be a good move for Wenger. Amid speculation over interest from Barcelona and a possible swap deal with Cameroonian hitman Samuel Eto'o, there are many who believe Henry's contribution to the side so far this year would warrant a quick sale. Despite entering the final few years of his career, a £30million price tag is unlikely to put off potential suitors given his undoubted pedigree; yet he is simply too important for Arsenal to consider letting him go. His influence on the youngsters, most notably Theo Walcott and Adebayor, is key in their development and Arsenal rely on his experience to guide them, particularly in Europe. This season however, Henry's injury situation has proved to be a gamble too far. Under the cloud of a sciatica problem that is the root cause of his back and hamstring troubles, the Frenchman should not consider coming back before the end of the season and, instead, should concentrate on getting fully fit for next term. With no silverware on offer now and the prospect of claiming a Champions League place with Wenger's array of talented youngsters still looking good, Henry is not needed in the short term. Next August should be his deadline, as Arsenal will need their striker in flying form if they are to mount a serious title challenge in 2007/08. Another trophyless season next campaign will not be greeted with as much sympathy as this one. A further change in the Arsenal hierarchy should come, diplomatically, in the installation of Gilberto Silva as club skipper. The Brazilian is not under the same pressure as Henry and, in his capacity as midfield enforcer, is more suited to the organisational part of captaincy. Allowing Henry to continue in his responsibility as role-model to Arsenal's young guns, but without the weight of the captain's armband, could be the key to his rediscovery of the form that has seen him average almost 50 goals a season in all competitions since his arrival in 2001/02. There is an argument that Arsenal's 'fortnight from hell' would have been significantly eased by better injury news. Robin Van Persie was an important goal-scoring threat before a metatarsal injury ruled him out, Tomas Rosicky was the club's most in-form player before he injured his thigh and William Gallas' on-off hamstring troubles have also disrupted the Gunners' defence; yet it is Henry's nightmare that has hurt the club the most and become the scapegoat for their failure to succeed this season. Yet it was Wenger's choice to introduce the Frenchman against PSV, when Arsenal were in the ascendancy and the striker was obviously struggling. A symptom of the manager's unfaltering belief in his captain, yet probably the reason that the Gunners' attacking instincts were blunted in the final third. When Henry is fully fit and full of confidence, he is one of the best strikers in the world. Holding on the shoulder of the last defender, using his exceptional pace and trickery to create openings for himself and his team-mates, he is unstoppable and has been an ever-present in the Player of the Year ballots for the past five years. Yet we have seen a different Henry this season. Often dropping deep to pick up possession, he has been crowded out by defenders and when he does break free into a one-on-one situation he is restrained from beating the player by his injuries.
It's almost as if there's a conscious thought that he may pull his hamstring if he unleashes his pace. As a result he sits in the Dennis Bergkamp role and gets involved in the build-up play, when he should be the one benefiting from the passes of Cesc Fabregas and Arsenal's other creative midfielders. The charismatic World Cup winner still has a lot to offer the side, and is worth his weight in gold on the training pitch, developing the talents of Denilson, Walcott and Abou Diaby. Yet on the pitch, and for the rest of this season at least, Wenger would be better off letting him focus on his recovery. Unencumbered by injuries, the thought of Henry flying at defenders again is a mouth-watering prospect for Arsenal fans. If he can get fully fit again then the future of Arsenal's youngsters is in good hands. The problem comes if he continues to struggle with injuries again at the start of next season, or Arsenal are forced to play him again too soon. The Gunners should have enough strength in depth to cope without him, but the reality is that Wenger will most likely turn to his talisman again (as he did against PSV) if the club's situation deteriorates. Focusing on pre-season is surely the best way to deal with Henry's injury nightmare. They may lose him for the rest of the season, but another trophyless campaign like this one next term and the summer of 2008 could spell the end of Henry's love-affair with Arsenal.
Culled from www.soccernet.com