A backward move?

Published : Jan 12, 2012 00:00 IST

Signing Thierry Henry on a loan deal might solve Arsenal's immediate problem but won't help the club in the long run. Over to Frank Malley.

Thierry Henry is the best player to have graced the English Premier League. Full stop. Not in doubt.

Better than Eric Cantona. Better than Cristiano Ronaldo. Better than Dennis Bergkamp, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

In eight seasons with Arsenal, Henry scored 226 goals in 369 appearances with power and pace and effortless elegance. For a couple of those seasons between 1999 and 2007 it is a safe bet he was the best footballer on the planet.

Yet it would be a mistake in so many ways if Henry, currently on a close-season break from American Major League Soccer team New York Red Bulls, returns to Arsenal on loan in the January transfer window.

Not because at 34 Henry is past it. He could still make a contribution, even if he no longer possesses the acceleration of old, nor performs in a league imbued with world-class competition.

The mind is still sharp and Henry's assist ratio up there with the best. He is still a classy performer and one whose experience might have a beneficial effect on players around him. That is what will be exercising the mind of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

But even if there are some Arsenal fans who would prefer to play the statue of Henry which now resides outside the Emirates Stadium rather than the unimpressive Marouane Chamakh or the inconsistent Andrey Arshavin, what would the return of the real live Henry say about Arsenal?

Would it not say that here was a club which looked backwards rather than forwards? A club yearning for the days when Henry's goals delivered trophies in a league with a more level financial playing field rather than a club with a clear vision of how to chase down the current twin EPL forces of Manchester City and Manchester United.

Would it not be an admission that Wenger's obsession with youth was wrong all along when all the great teams have a pleasing balance of raw talent and experience?

Most of all, would it not be the clearest of symbols that Arsenal were no longer London's top football club? Not when just up the road Tottenham are blazing away in third place in the table, five points and two places clear of them with a game in hand and with a player in Gareth Bale who at 22 is the envy of the football world.

All the talk at White Hart Lane is how the club must keep the likes of dynamic full-back Kyle Walker, supreme playmaker Luka Modric and in particular the irrepressible Bale. Tottenham are not talking about makeshift signings. They are not attempting to apply short-term Band Aids. They are a club who radiate genuine ambition.

Can the same be said for Arsenal, who commendably refuse to take on crippling debts but who appear under Wenger of late to have lost the knack of speculating to accumulate?

If a deal is done, Henry, who moved to Barcelona in 2007 with many believing Wenger had off-loaded him with perfect timing, could feature until March when the MLS season restarts.

There are seven EPL games in that time, including crucial matches against Manchester United and Tottenham, plus FA Cup ties and the first leg of Arsenal's UEFA Champions League last 16 clash against AC Milan.

With Chamakh and Gervinho off to the African Nations Cup it is obvious why Wenger might be tempted to bring in striking support for Robin van Persie.

The return of Henry, however, would send the wrong message. It would be a triumph of fantasy over fact.


Sir Alex Ferguson turned 70 and you just know what his New Year resolution will be after Manchester United's early departure from the Champions League.

To bring EPL title number 13 to Old Trafford. United have the experience and the know-how. Manchester City have the money, the talent, the depth of squad, a shrewd boss in Roberto Mancini and the memory of that 6-1 thumping of United at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Who's your money on? Mine's still on Fergie.

© PA Sport, 2012, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

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