It was billed one the homecoming for Thierry Henry and in the end, the ending matched the expectation at the start. A single goal separated Arsenal from Leeds United and advances us to the next stage of the competition. A home tie against Aston Villa is the prize that we got and it was a moment of history being reenacted that sent us through.
It was a goal that we’ve seen so many times at Highbury in particular and so many other ground all over Europe. A trade which Emmanuel Adebayor tries to copy but never truly grasp the application. Henry curler to the bottom corner from the left side facing the goal. The placing was perfect and the stadium erupted when the ball hit the back of the net.
The celebration showed just how much Henry loved the club. It was passionate and genuine. The way he started off that celebration, it was not too dissimilar to the one he did that will forever will captured by the statue outside the stadium. Instead, it was a slower paced run with his arms outstretched. It ended with him hugging Arsene Wenger before the other players congratulated him.
Up until that goal, it was a tedious affair. Wenger retained 6 players from the line-up that played at Craven Cottage. I thought that to be a very big gamble. The trio of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey remained in the engine room and that troubled me. I was told that Tomas Rosicky was taken ill but we still left the inexperienced Yossi Benayoun on the bench.
Fatigue was used as a reason for our failures at Fulham but who can we blame if we continue to play them week in, week out. We all know the effects of being overplayed, injuries. I just don’t want to hear the same reason being used when we know the cause of the problem but not set about doing something to change it. The paucity of the squad at the moment is obvious with the continuous selection of the midfield trio. I know we’re besieged by injuries in that department but if we continue at this rate, when the others become fit again, they will only be replaced by those playing.
One more midfielder was added to the list last night with Francis Coquelin joining those in the treatment room. He sustained a hamstring injury when pushing on the overlap. That will take him out for a couple of weeks. Here is a midfielder who was forced to play as a full back and probably did his hamstring playing in a role he was not accustomed to (recently). The full back options are already threadbare as it is and it looks very likely that Ignasi Miquel will keep his place for our visit to Liberty Stadium.
Andrey Arshavin provided a cameo of his former self, albeit still lacking the end product. At least this time around, he was industrious, put himself about and seemed to have rediscover how to trap the ball again. I’m not saying he’s back or anything like that but such performance can only do him a world of good. Sadly, the voting party on the official website went for the sentimental vote and gave it to Henry. Losing that poll to Henry is a small issue but the gap between them is not. I could give him a medal on my own for the amount of running that the Russian put in yesterday.
Henry’s goal probably overshadowed the deeper problem that we are facing at the moment. Marouane Chamakh was given start. He was trying, that I would give him. Couple of good touches but otherwise was easy for the Leeds defenders to cope with. When push comes to shove and we needed to make the change to win the game, Henry was selected ahead of Park Ju Young, who was also on the bench. A short term loan over a full time first teamer. Tells it’s own story.
At this point I’m worried for Park. Every passing match that he misses (when fit) looks increasingly like it was a desperate buy without much thought. That we went for him simply because we had no other choice and wanted an additional striker who matches a certain quality. Or his performance during training varied from what the scouts have seen of him in Ligue 1. Even worse, he could have been bought for commercial reasons, what with Asia being a big market to explore and all.
The other bright spark of the night came from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. You could see that every time he had the ball, Leeds were concerned. AOC was very direct with his game. At every opportunity that he had, he was running straight at them. For a defender, that is the one thing they hate the most. AOC had several shots but could not beat Lonergan with any.
It’s not entirely a one sided game. After the goal, Leeds tried to come back and Ross McCormack forced a very decent save from Wojciech Szczesny. Then the Polish went for a walk about and clear a ball straight to the feet of a Leeds player. Luckily others reacted quick enough to close that player down and Szczesny recovered to catch the ball. Otherwise, the pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci did their job well.
In the end, this was a match that had special meaning attached to it. About how special a club Arsenal truly is. At Stamford Bridge, their manager had to ask his players to come celebrate with him. No such direction was required from Wenger, the players themselves know who to appreciate. None more so than Henry.
The fire lives in Henry. Don’t believe me? See his final whistle celebration.