So, my and many other Gooners’ fears were justified, and Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions Leage by PSV. There’s no real chance of overtaking Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United, so there’ll be no silverware to add to the new trophy cabinet in the Emirates Stadium this year.
Yet again, last night’s match had Arsenal dominating much of the play and having several attempts on goal, and yet failing to score. Their only “goal” was an own-goal by PSV defender Alex, who made up for his mistake by scoring in the 84th minute to leave Arsenal needing to score twice to avoid going out of the competition. This they failed to do, and the empty seats visible in the last few minutes of the game indicated that many fans didn’t believe they were capable of it either.
Arsenal need at least one other consistent goal scorer. In previous seasons they had midfielders such as Pires who got lots of goals each season, plus other strikers who could perform such as Dennis Bergkamp. This season, Robin van Persie is Arsenal’s top striker, closely followed by Thierry Henry and then Gilberto. Henry just isn’t doing it this season like he has in previous years. No doubt injury has played its part in limiting his effectiveness, but I also think that his elevation to Captain has impeded his ability to be selfish and decisive in front of goal. Since he’s not a shouting kind of captain, I think he’s gone for becoming more of a playmaker and assist player, trying to help others score. Frankly, that’s not and shouldn’t be his forte. I want the selfish Henry who runs at and terrifies defenses before curling the ball past the keeper. I want the Henry who thinks of nothing but getting the ball in the back of the net. I want the Henry that can turn on the afterburners after passing to himself in space that leaves defenders coughing in his dust.
However, I fear that Henry is gone, never to return. His pace is gone, his authority is gone, his arrogance is gone. What is left is not enough to carry a whole team for a whole season. Now, maybe Arsene can get that Henry back. Maybe it would mean resting him from now to the start of the next season – I don’t know. But maybe he’ll never be the player he was, and it’s time to cash in on him. I think I wouldn’t be alone in being happy enough to accept a big wodge of cash this summer from Barcelona or whoever in return for a petulant Frenchman past his prime.
But what then? Wenger is not one known to buy ready-made superstars. He seems to delight in developing younger players – and he has done a great job with players such as Fabregas and Clichy, with Denilson looking to join their number before long. But how long can we afford to drop out of competitions and be eternal runners-up while waiting for the youngsters to blossom? There’s no doubt that Wenger’s youngsters did really well in the Carling Cup this season, despite losing to Chelsea’s first team in the final, and they are likely to be an exciting team to watch in the coming years. But what is needed is to blend these up-and-coming players with proven professionals, and specifically a striker with the killer instinct. Whether that’s a player that can work with Henry, or one to replace him, I don’t know. What I don’t want is to see a team that continues to revolve around a single player, and whose success or failure is dependant on that one player’s performance. It’s a team game, after all.