After a shambolic night at the San Siro and a toothless capitulation at the Stadium of Light, Thierry Henry must be asking himself two questions. The first must be: what has happened to the slick, dominant, and ruthless Arsenal team with which he lifted two league titles and an FA cup; went forty-nine games unbeaten, and came to within fourteen minutes of lifting the Champions League? He must also be thinking: ‘When can I come back?’
His arrival was presented by player and manager as subordinate and supplementary to the new main man at the Emirates: Robin Van Persie. After all, Thierry was only here to help. They certainly needed him. Henry demonstrated the touch; composure and finishing that won him his legendary status at Arsenal with his winning goal in the FA cup against Leeds. He got on the score sheet once more against Blackburn, and pulled Arsenal out of the mire with a last-gasp winner at Sunderland, ensuring that Arsenal continued to hold a tenuous grasp on the all-important fourth place in the Premier League.
Such performances left Arsenal fans with a question of their own. What the hell is he still doing in the MLS? His pace may have waned through natural progression of years, but his work rate, awareness and class remain. I think it is reasonable to assume that had the misfiring Gervinho or Chamakh found themselves in the same position against Leeds, Arsenal would have been forced to suffer a replay.
In the MLS Henry averages just under a goal every two games. In his return to Arsenal he managed just that figure, scoring three goals in his six appearances; one less than Gervinho has achieved in his entire Arsenal career to date. These figures illustrate that Henry is still good enough to compete at the top level, let alone in the pedestrian MLS. He provided more than just cover for Arsenal’s strike force, but for a short period was a reliable and dangerous option in Wenger’s armoury.
Of course one may say that it is precisely players like Henry transferring to the MLS that will allow it to one day become a truly competitive league. However, these problems run far deeper and are much more bureaucratic than simply a case of attracting more Thierry Henry’s and David Beckham’s. The MLS administrators repeatedly refuse to synch their season with FIFA’s calendar. This means that major international summer tournaments such as the Gold Cup or the World Cup provoke a mass exodus of international players from the league to play international football. Such administrative disruption is the league’s real down fall, rather than the allure of a few stars among a throng of mediocrity.
At the final whistle in the San Siro, Thierry Henry rushed over to the travelling Arsenal fans to say farewell. You could sense that he wasn’t quite ready to leave just yet, and there are many Arsenal fans that are wishing he hadn’t.