EPL 2006: Day 16 (Newcastle 1 – Arsenal 0)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 11th, 2005 • 4:35 pm

I am not sure I got my day count right here, since this was already the “return” fixture of the first game of the season—but with so many games in hand for so many teams, it’s a bit hard to keep track…

In any case, the statistics are not really the issue here.

If there’s one thing that this game demonstrated, it is that Thierry Henry is not a team captain. (OK, it also demonstrated that Dermott Gallagher is one lousy referee, but we already knew that.) For a striker to be a good team captain, he needs to be someone like Alan Shearer. He’s a thug, but he’s also a leader, and Thierry Henry is not a leader.

We obviously don’t really know what goes on in the dressing room, and what really motivated Arsène Wenger, but the selection of Thierry Henry as the captain is probably due to lack of choice more than anything else. Sol Campbell could have been the other candidate, but he gets injured a bit too often these days, and he seems to have psychological issues of his own.

Thierry Henry seems simply unable to motivate himself—let alone his team mates—in a positive fashion whenever Arsenal is struggling again adverse conditions. He can still turn a game on its head with sheer magic, but when he doesn’t, like yesterday, he’s rather useless. He commits unnecessary fouls and just doesn’t add anything to his team’s game.

There is little doubt that Shearer deserved to be sent off just as much as Gilberto did in that game, but it didn’t happen, and the Gunners had to cope with that situation, and they utterly failed to do so. Newcastle were bound to have a clear chance on goal sooner or later, and it finished 1-0, in a rather predictable fashion.

I don’t really care about Arsenal’s “away record” here. It don’t think it means much—just like it doesn’t mean much that they have done so well in Europe so far this season. (Anyone who thinks that they can pull a Liverpool ’05 on us this season in the Champions’ League is seriously deluding themselves. Liverpool weren’t anything to write home about last year, but at least in recent years they have always had a pretty decent defensive record.)

The current season is pretty much a write-off. The core issue is whether this Arsenal team is a team on the verge of collapse or Wenger can still rescue something and—crucially—convince Thierry Henry to stay. I guess it will all depend on what players he purchases in January, and how well they do in the first few months of 2006.

Thierry Henry obviously has his share of responsibility in the current situation (see above), but he might reason that he is a striker, after all, and the captaincy is not for him (which it isn’t). That would mean that, in order to convince Henry to stay, Wenger would have to buy new players and find a new captain. Will he dare take such drastic action? It’s far from certain.

We just have to look at Manchester United’s current European woes to see that just switching captains (from Ruud van Nistelroy to Gary Neville) is not necessarily a panacea.

The new few weeks could be quite crucial for Arsenal and Arsène Wenger indeed. There are games against Chelsea and Manchester United, and then there is the transfer window in January. If Arsenal can get decent results in those games and Wenger can make key purchases in January, then this current team might still be rescued and form a great foundation for the launch of the new stadium next season.

If not, it could very well signal the end of an era for Arsenal and Arsène Wenger.

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