My thoughts on Henry’s transfer to Barcelona
When I was woken to news of Thierry Henry’s exit via phone call from a friend early on Saturday morning (in Australian time) I admitted in a previous post that my first reaction was one of absolute shock. I didn’t for a second believe any of the media speculation and whenever friends of mine or readers of the Arsenal FC Blog questioned me about the possibility of Henry leaving I would always reply that I was certain that the Frenchman would stay.
I am an Arsenal supporter through and through and whilst no player is ever more important than the club the fact is, being a supporter of the club for only ten years, I have never really known an Arsenal side without Henry. Additionally, after Henry’s proclamation that the contract he signed a season ago would be his last, I was not expecting to face life at Arsenal without Henry so soon.
It has taken me a full two days to comprehend the reasons for Henry’s departure and get my head around the possible ways that the club will account for his absence in the short- and long-term future. I apologised in my previous post for failing to write an article giving my opinions on Henry’s exit but the truth is that if I had not waited until now I would have come up with a disjointed article of little-to-no value to anyone. As a result, I am happy that I waited and I hope my regular readers can respect my choice in doing so. Enough said on that, I think.
Remember the good times, not the last two months
One thing that I do not want to discuss in too much detail is the manner of Henry’s departure or the comments he made in an interview with Arsenal TV. There are no doubt people who will question the honesty of the man for overplaying the importance of David Dein and the uncertainty surrounding manager Arsene Wenger’s future. The truth, in my opinion, is that Henry left for footballing reasons and that a lot of what he is saying about the other two men is being used as cover for his real reasons for departure.
Having said that, I think it would have been incredibly difficult for Henry to come out and say that he left the club because of footballing reasons when he so confidently stated that he would never leave the club only twelve months earlier. Some people may call that disloyalty but it would be unfair to criticise a player who has been loyal to the club for eight years – a rare achievement in the modern game. I think the comments that should be remembered by all Arsenal fans are those aimed directly at them and their support for Henry.
“Well, I would to say you have been tremendous for me I really do appreciate it. I am shaking as I say this. I will always remember you. I will have you in my head and my heart. I wanted to reassure you that I always gave 100 per cent here. I know some people said some other stuff but I always gave 100 per cent. I hope you appreciate what I did here because I appreciate what you did for me. I grew as a man and became a better football player. I will always take that with me no matter what happens.”
“Arsenal will be in my blood as well as my heart. I will always, always, always remember you guys. I said I was going to be a Gunner for life and I did not lie because when you are a Gunner you will always be a Gunner. The Club is in my heart and will remain in my heart forever.”
I, for one, believe him and hope that any Arsenal supporters who are frustrated over the manner of Henry’s exit can put aside their negative thoughts and remember the great things that Henry has done for the club in his Arsenal career. I personally wish him all the best as he enjoys the final years of his career at Barcelona and hope he can help the club win back the Spanish League from Real Madrid next season. He has been a fantastic servant of the club and deserves anything he can achieve with the Spanish club.
Where to now for Arsenal?
The big question now for Henry’s old club is simple; where do Arsenal go from here? Despite Henry’s departure, there is no doubting the overall quality of Arsenal’s first team. Anyone who suggests that Arsenal lack world-class players only need to glimpse the likes of Jens Lehmann, William Gallas, Kolo Toure, Gilberto Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie in full flight to be shown up.
While Arsene Wenger is unlikely to change his football philosophy in the near future I think there is a very real possibility that the general formation of his team may change. Wenger has always been an advocate of the 4-4-2 with a tendency to play a support striker in a role behind the more prolific Henry. The likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Ljungberg and van Persie have all been used in this support role in previous seasons. However, despite Emmanuel Adebayor’s consistent improvement over the past season I don’t believe that Wenger will want to place the burden on the Togolese international to be the club’s premier goalscorer. I also don’t think that van Persie can be as prolific as Henry ever was and as a result, I genuinely believe that Wenger might tweak Arsenal’s formation to accommodate for Henry’s exit.
A change of formation?
As a big fan of Adebayor I am thrilled at the opportunity he will now get to prove his worth as a result Henry’s departure. Quite often last season Adebayor was used as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 setup and whilst he did not always get the goals, Adebayor’s efforts combined with the support he received from midfield was effective enough to justify Wenger’s use of the formation. There is a chance that with the return of van Persie from injury Wenger may turn this 4-5-1 into a more attacking 4-3-3 formation with Adebayor in the middle supported by Alexander Hleb on the left and van Persie on the right.
Whilst Hleb has rarely been used on the left Wenger will be smart enough to realise that the current situation requires new solutions and that the Belarussian was absolutely devastating when attacking from the left-hand side for his previous club, Stuttgart. As for van Persie, he is accustomed to playing in this position having been regularly used on the right for the Dutch national team. This would then leave a midfield triangle of Gilberto, Fabregas and Rosicky. Admittedly, this does look a bit lightweight but when you consider that Manchester United won the league last season with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in the centre of the park it suggests that the midfield battle can be won by energy and dynamism over physical presence. Of course, in extreme circumstances – such as games against Bolton or Blackburn – Abou Diaby’s dominating presence could also be utilised.
Who should be brought in?
The quality is there – make no mistake – but there is also little question that Wenger must use the money from the sale of Henry (as well as Jose Antonio Reyes and Jeremie Aliadiere) to bring in two or three more exceptional footballers. There have been a multitude of names that have been linked with the club over the summer and this has only intensified as a result of Henry’s exit.
In terms of wide players I have said time and time again that Lyon’s Florent Malouda would be a wonderful signing for Arsenal. He has experience at the top level, is versatile enough to slot in on the left of either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation and would score enough goals to support the likes of Adebayor and van Persie. His direct nature and composure in front of goal would be an asset to a team which struggled to put away chances on a consistent basis last season.
Another name that has popped up recently is Ajax attacker Ryan Babel. Babel was excellent in Holland’s UEFA U21 Championship tournament win and has previously stated that he would love to play under Wenger at Arsenal. Although his favoured is as the main striker Babel can also play on the left and his close friendship with fellow Dutchman van Persie would mean that Babel would have no trouble fitting in to the Arsenal set-up. He is a direct player with exhilarating pace and power but is still a number of years from fulfilling his potential.
Wenger should look forward when signing a new striker
Indeed, there are some strong reports that Babel may join Arsenal along with fellow Ajax forward Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Anyone who has watched Huntelaar will know that he is a player in the mould of Ruud van Nistelrooy and has a phenomenal scoring record in his relatively short career with Ajax and the Dutch national team. A number of people have stated that Huntelaar is too slow for the Premiership and does not fit into Wenger’s preferred style of attacking player but with the real possibility that the manager may move to a 4-3-3 formation Huntelaar would fit in perfectly.
One player who has been mentioned that I sincerely hope the club do not sign is former Arsenal player and Bolton striker Nicolas Anelka. Whilst I agree that Anelka has the potential to score 15-20 goals next season if he did sign for Arsenal I would see any move for the Frenchman as a step backwards for the club. The truth is that while Anelka may be virtually identical to Henry in terms of age and style of play he is not even on the same planet in terms of output and overall effectiveness. Wenger is in the process of building a new team and perfecting a new style and purchasing a player like Anelka is not the answer.
If Wenger does opt for a speedy, skilfull forward then I think Carlo Tevez is much more positive option. He is young, passionate and now has a season of Premiership football under his belt. If Wenger brings Tevez to the club then Arsenal may have a confident finisher to compliment the likes of Adebayor and van Persie’s creativity.
Henry should not be ‘replaced’
Whoever is brought in as Arsenal’s new striker, the truth is that they should not be brought in to try and replace Henry directly. Henry was a player who was so talented that he allowed Arsene Wenger to form the side around him. There is currently no player available to Arsenal who fits this description. As a result, the manager should be looking to bring in two or three players to accommodate for the loss of Henry and Reyes/Julio Baptista with the notion to provide Arsenal with a fresh approach to their attacking game.
Personally, I will be hoping that Malouda, Babel and Huntelaar are all brought in to bolster Arsenal’s attack. It may seem like a drastic change but such big departures require significant replacements. Thankfully, with the large amount of funds now at his disposal after Henry’s transfer to Barcelona and the inevitable sale of Reyes to Spain, Wenger will have the money available to make these signings.
The last of the fantastic four
There is no doubt going to be some tough times ahead for the Arsenal Football Club but there is also much to be positive about. As Arseblogger pointed out, with Dennis Bergkamp retired, Patrick Vieira defected to Inter Milan, Robert Pires at Villareal and now Thierry Henry off to Barcelona, the club’s supporters have had to say goodbye to the four main components of the last great Arsenal side. Now the likes of Rosicky, van Persie and Adebayor and perhaps a couple of new players will have the chance to step up and show the world what they are made of.
On a final note I would like to remind all the Arsenal supporters out there that there is absolutely no need to panic. There are going to be some big changes but the club is in a strong position to compete for honours and I honestly believe there is a lot to be excited about heading into next season.
What do you think?
Voice your opinions on Henry’s exit by leaving a comment.