Sun, Jan 08, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Henry at Arsenal might no longer be soccer heaven

By John Leicester  /  AP, LONDON

Not only is nostalgia not what it used to be, its beguiling powers of deception can be dangerous, too. The desire to relive emotions long faded can make one do foolish things — like going to see Deep Purple in concert, a mistake I’ve made, or believe that Thierry Henry and Arsenal are still a match made in soccer heaven.

Often, the outcome is disappointment. Listening to rock’s one-time loudest band reheat Smoke on the Water in Paris in 2010, for what must have been its umpteenth time, provided only an empty aftertaste of the musical feast I could only imagine Purple must have served up in its heyday in the 1970s.

Likewise, nothing truly good can come from Arsenal’s greatest player pulling on its red and white shirt again, likely as early as on Monday against Leeds in the FA Cup third round. Just as Purple now sounds infinitely better recorded than live, the only genuinely satisfying way to appreciate Henry these days is by watching YouTube videos from when the French striker was in his prime, running rings around defenses in his eight glorious years at Arsenal, until he moved to Barcelona in 2007.

Fabulous memories. To single out any one of Henry’s club-record 226 goals is to do an injustice to the others, although, if pressed, I’d chose his back-heel through the legs of Charlton defender Jonathan Fortune and past ‘keeper Dean Kiely in 2004, in the penultimate game of Arsenal’s record unbeaten run of 49 matches. Such audacity, improvisation, quick thinking and upper-body strength from Henry as Fortune clambered all over him. Sublime.

However, flashbacks from yesteryear are no substitute for smart planning. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is borrowing Henry for six or so weeks from Major League Soccer’s (MLS) New York Red Bulls, because he has got his recruitment policy all wrong, being too tightfisted with the London club’s money and leaving himself short-handed.

Henry’s return will doubtless wring a few happy tears from nostalgic Arsenal fans, but leaning on a 34-year-old, however fondly remembered for his previous 370 club appearances, for help in a league so damagingly physical and intensely competitive is a sign of weakness, not strength. It’s an SOS, not a last hurrah.

You wouldn’t catch Alex Ferguson bringing back the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored 150 goals for him, because the Manchester United manager makes sure that he doesn’t need to. Chelsea’s squad is sufficiently stocked with players who can find the net that manager Andre Villa-Boas felt comfortable letting Henry’s former France teammate, Nicolas Anelka, transfer this month to Shanghai Shenhua in China.

Wenger, of course, spun this positively.

“We will have Thierry for January and in February. Then he will go back to the United States. I am sure during these two months he will be a massive asset to the team in the dressing room and on the pitch. He can be relaxed, not under too much pressure and be a tremendous help to the team,” said the Frenchman who first recruited Henry from Juventus in 1999.

The scorer of 14 goals, the second-highest MLS total, for the Red Bulls last season might still be able to conjure up a useful strike for Arsenal here and there. In the process, Henry might help show that the gulf in standards between MLS and European football isn’t that huge, after all, as US midfielder Landon Donovan also proved this week by slotting straight into Everton’s starting lineup in the first match of his latest loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy, before the MLS starts a new season in March.

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