Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Egomaniac Returns

Arsenal 1-0 Leeds

It was like he'd never been away. If there was a trademark Thierry Henry goal, that was it. And it was pretty close to a trademark Thierry Henry celebration, too- the bellowing, the chest-beating, and the refusal to allow team mates to share in his moment.

Thierry Henry is an Arsenal legend, no doubt. He will probably remain the club's record goalscorer for a long, long time and it's hard to think of many prolific goal getters in recent decades who have been as thrilling as the Frenchman.

But, although his goal against Leeds was an uncanny impression of his own younger self, the truth is that Henry is long past anything approaching his best, and the extent to which he can help Arsenal now is questionable.

Much will rely on his willingness to play second fiddle on a stage where he was once undisputed king. He has been careful to project humility in his remarks, but his showy celebration last night suggests that his egotistical side is still present.

The fact that Henry probably can still make a difference to this team is more an indictment of the squad than a tribute to his powers. Beyond Van Persie, there has been a painful lack of firepower. Marouane Chamakh's play has lost the conviction that initially made him look a shrewd signing. He never looked much of a finisher but his workrate, aggression and awareness of those around him have all regressed so that it is almost a relief he is departing for the African Nations Cup. The signing of Park Chu Young seems a disaster, as he is not considered worthy of any playing time.

Gervinho and Walcott are infuriating in different ways. The Ivorian in has a habit of looking the most dangerous player on the pitch until it comes to the rather important business of shooting for goal or playing a telling pass. Walcott can finish and can provide accuracy in the final third but when he is up against a good full back, he is too often shunted onto the periphery of the game, sometimes to the point that Arsenal may as well be playing with ten men.

In short, the fact that the return of Thierry Henry can be seen as some kind of solution only suggests the magnitude of Arsenal's problems up front. These are problems that will remain after Chamakh and Gervinho return and after Henry goes back to America. And the alarm bells will be deafening if Van Persie succumbs to injury at any point, which hardly seems impossible.

Henry's cameo against Leeds was brilliant, but the serious business between now and May is in the league, not the FA Cup. And Arsenal need more than an ageing legend to secure that top four spot.

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