Arsenal in chaos

The forcing out of David Dein, the Arsenal Vice-President, was certainly a major factor in Thierry Henry’s departure.

With Henry gone, can Wenger be far behind? And if Wenger goes, how long can the precociously gifted Cesc Fabregas be expected to stay?

How great a part did the ousting of the chief Arsenal mover and shaker David Dein play in Thierry Henry’s decision to join Barcelona at last, having been it seemed on the brink of it a year earlier till he played, disappointingly, against them in the European Cup Final, and swore his allegiance to the Gunners on the flight home?

I have another, perhaps a curious, question to ask. What part did the Gunners’ move across the way from the old Arsenal Stadium to the new, far bigger, Emirates’, built on a former rubbish dump, play in Henry’s decision to depart? I ask because when a little while ago, I went up to the club’s London Colney training ground to interview the charming, fluent, humorous Henry (he speaks excellent English, I had to interview his compatriot, Robert Pires, in French) for my official Arsenal Stadium History Book, he had this to say:

“There’s something about the whole stadium when you’re there. Something happens to me. I hear moments of games, something that happens in my mind. When I walk, it’s just strange. I feel like I remember some games that I played, some stuff that I did. I know it’s not the most modern stadium ever, but there’s something you can’t describe, you need to play. It’s always something special about Highbury.”

The forcing out of Dein was certainly a major factor in Henry’s departure. Dein had, of course, fallen out, as vice-president, with the other members of the board over the relocation from the splendid but now far too small Arsenal Stadium with its mere 38,000 capacity to the nearby Emirates Stadium, built on what was virtually a rubbish dump. Dein preferred a new stadium to be built a few miles away at Kings Cross near the great railway station or to shift to Wembley Stadium then still in the agonisingly prolonged state of being built. But the ultimate bone of contention was Dein’s desire to talk business with the American plutocrat, Stan Kroenke. The club chairman, Peter Hill Wood, last scion of the famous dynasty which had ruled at Highbury since the 1920s, but alas now a marginalised figure — not least because he had sold £290,000 of his shares to Dein and lived to regret it — thundered patriotically against the Yankee interloper. Only, a few months later to be reported to be en route to talk to Kroenke in the States.

It was, of course, Dein whose coup had brought Wenger to Arsenal from Grampus in Japan, while his son, a close friend of Thierry, had been best man at his wedding. With Dein gone, Henry feared that Wenger, who had only a year of his contract to run, would follow him out of the door.

It is rumoured that Arsenal would actually have let Henry go to Nou Camp at the end of last season. This, though, almost ever since Wenger brought him to Highbury in 1999 from Juventus for what has come to look like a bargain at £10 million, he has been the exciting inspiration of the team with his superb skills, his infinite inventions and his blistering speed. But these were less in evidence in the final stages of last season when sciatica and groin strain eventually ruled him out of the team, with disastrous effects on the attack. It might be said that Barcelona are thus taking a gamble with a player who, at 29, is in his latter years as a striker. We shall see.

He began under Wenger’s aegis at Monaco and when Arsene was dismissed from the French League club after seven years of good service, Thierry would not be reconciled to the subsequent managership of that once fine midfielder, Jean Tigana.

Indeed he and David Trezeguet, the ebullient centre forward — Henry was still out on the right wing — were known provocatively to read newspapers while poor Tigana was attempting to give his team talks. The Monaco President was furious, assuming that they both wanted to leave and indeed both did, each having his spell at Juventus.

Henry’s was not a happy one and when Wenger brought him to Highbury he promptly made him a centre forward, though he had figured occasionally at outside right when France were on their way to winning the 1998 World Cup. Thierry’s 17 goals in that first season were only the start of a cascade during which the Gunners won both FA Cup and Championship honours, going through a complete League season unbeaten.

With France, Henry’s form has been somewhat irregular. The 2002 World Cup in the Far East was a huge disappointment for both player and team, then the holders, when sensationally beaten by Senegal in Seoul in the opening game, Henry himself getting sent off in the second, against Uruguay. As against that, he had sparkled when France won the 2000 European Championship in the Low Countries.

His subsequent Euro Championship in Portugal in 2004 was another personal and general anti-climax but after an uneasy start — by both team and player — he recovered his form in the latter stages of the German World Cup last year, though one crucial moment showed that his opportunism was not restricted to technique.

In the second round game against Spain, he gained a free kick when simulating an obstruction by the defender Puyol. Zinedine Zidane took it, Patrick Vieira headed France into the lead.

Then there was the time at Highbury in the London Derby versus Chelsea when, with Chelsea’s defence slowly lining up to face a free kick, Henry, craftily but quite legitimately, knocked the ball into the unguarded goal. You could call it opportunism.