| Henry believes Rooney ‘has this lovely arrogance’
As the small hours approached Monday, Thierry Henry delivered the message craved by Arsenal fans distressed by the sight of Manchester United breaking away in the dash for the Premiership line. As he cradled his PFA Player of the Year trophy in the Grosvenor Hotel, Park Lane, London, Henry said: “I am not a guy who likes to give up. I am also at a club which doesn’t give up.”
True, but the once unstoppable Arsenal machine is running on empty. The champions appear drained of belief, stripped of driving forces and urgently requiring their manager, Arsene Wenger, to regain his usual control.
Monday’s medical bulletin from Highbury was devastating, reporting that Patrick Vieira (knee) may struggle to make the May 11 game with Sunderland, possibly the FA Cup final a week later. Ankle injuries definitely rule Freddie Ljungberg and Lauren out of Sunday’s match with Leeds United; Pascal Cygan (calf) was struggling although Arsenal stressed Martin Keown should be fit despite a thigh strain.
The momentum is clearly with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, who pushed five points clear over a momentous, championship-defining weekend. So Henry applied restraint to his words of defiance, tempering his rhetoric with strands of realism. “We have put ourselves in a position where we have to look at other results,” said the Frenchman. “I watched the United game against Spurs as I was getting ready to come here; it looked like only a matter of time before United would score.” They did, through Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Also short-listed for their peers’ most prestigious decoration, Scholes and Van Nistelrooy were eclipsed by Henry but it was a subdued Arsenal table at the Grosvenor gathering despite Henry being joined by Campbell, Ashley Cole, Robert Pires and Vieira in the Premiership Team of the Season (voted in March). Arsenal were receiving acclaim for individual performances over three-quarters of the season while United were homing in on one almighty honour for lasting best the Premiership marathon.
“On Saturday I was pretty disappointed after the Bolton game but then I woke up on Sunday morning and told myself I am doing something I love,” said Henry.
“I enjoy the Premiership more than anywhere else because it is more attacking,” said the former Monaco and Juventus wide player.
A smile played on the lips of the distinguished silver-haired gentleman sitting next to Henry. “We have had a great many foreign players come to the Premiership and not all of them have been good ones,” said Sir Bobby Robson, the richly deserving recipient of the PFA’s Special Merit Award.
“The good foreign players have brought a different style. Thierry Henry is the master. I saw Thierry playing outside right for Monaco, then in Italy, and now he has had two fabulous seasons in a different role at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger saw tremendous acceleration coupled with other things, like close control.
Talk then turned to favoured strikers with Henry nominating Marco van Basten, the great Dutchman, and Wayne Rooney. “Rooney has this lovely arrogance,” Henry said. “Rooney respects the opposition but doesn’t fear them. When Rooney’s playing against Marcel Desailly, it’s like he’s playing in the street with his friends. He has no fear.” (How Arsenal could do with Rooney savaging United’s defence on the season’s last day, although the title is likely to be decided by then.)
Robson did not hesitate. “My favourite player was Ronaldo in his first season at Barcelona when he was at his best with no injuries or complications in his life,” said his former manager. “Ronaldo was the most brilliant player I have ever seen before his injuries.
Earlier, during the awards ceremony, Robson had looked on proudly as the Newcastle midfielder, Jermaine Jenas, beat Rooney to the Young Players’ award while Alan Shearer was named the Premier League’s Overall Player of the Decade, surprisingly pipping Roy Keane, within days of his seventh Premiership medal.