Arsène Wenger has insisted that there is no downside to his decision to re-sign Thierry Henry on a two-month loan from the New York Red Bulls.
Henry has been training at Arsenal during the MLS close-season and Wenger said that he knew after the striker's first session that he could still contribute at Premier League level.
Henry will officially rejoin on New Year's Day and although Wenger feels he needs "two good weeks' work" to get match fit, there is the possibility that he could be considered as a substitute for the visit to Fulham on Monday. Henry will hope to start in the FA Cup tie against Leeds United at Emirates Stadium on Monday week.
"I have done this for footballing reasons because I need a striker for two months and I don't have one at the moment," Wenger said, with a nod towards the looming departures of Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho for the Africa Cup of Nations. "Thierry's value is on the pitch. I felt that at the World Cup [last year], when he came on for France against South Africa, he gave something to the team. He has something. He knows where to be. He knows how to give a problem to the opponent. You never lose that.
"He has the quality and capacity to help us out. You do not find players on the planet of this quality who are available for two months. Was there a moment in training when I realised he could still do it? Yes, the first day. There are no risks. I met Thierry when he was 17 years old [at Monaco] and I had him here at 22 so I know every movement that he can make. He is a super-intelligent guy and he is a special talent."
The 34-year-old Henry is a different player to the one who terrorised Premier League defences for eight seasons from 1999, having lost most but not all of his pace. Wenger said that he could play him up front, on either flank or even behind the striker, and he suggested that his role would most likely be as an impact substitute. "He and I are conscious that he is 34," Wenger said, on the issue of Henry's pace. "But he has not lost his class or brain. He is here to help, nothing else. When we need him, he will come on."
Wenger attempted to downplay the significance of a comeback for arguably the finest player in the club's history. "What is important is to keep this story as quiet as possible," he said. That got a laugh. Wenger is keen not to put Henry under pressure – "He is not here suddenly to be the leader," he said – and no matter what nothing could tarnish his legacy, because "you can never take away from people what they have done".
Wenger said that Henry was "very happy and modest" about his return, and he wanted to be "as discreet as possible" but he predicted that the player's pride would drive him, as it did for Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann, two other stalwarts who came back on short-term deals.
"I remember when we went to Tottenham [in April 2010], Sol was absolutely amazing," Wenger said. "He had such a capacity to fight and it's important to bring that out. Sol is like Thierry. Once they are committed, you know you can rely on them."
Wenger has not yet decided whether to register Henry in the Champions League squad and he said that he was "not looking for permanent strikers or players unless we lose players [to injury]". He also said that he might not take a left-back on loan because Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna should be back from injury by the end of January.
Jack Wilshere is fighting to return before February from his ankle problem but Wenger could not put a date on a comeback for the injury-jinxed Abou Diaby.
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald