Thierry Henry's first yellow card of the Champions' League campaign, for a non-existent handling offence in Moscow, may be regarded as a misfortune; his second, for a foul in the first minute of the return game, was certainly carelessness; to receive a third last Tuesday night, ruling him out of next week's deciding game in Group G, was utter stupidity.
"I concede that the booking I picked up wasn't very clever," was as much as Arsenal's captain would admit after barging into Hamburg's defender Joris Mathijsen long after the ball had gone. "It was the result of frustration," he added, ignoring the fact that Robin van Persie had just equalised for the home team with almost 40 minutes left in which to achieve the win Arsenal needed. Unlike four previous games at the Emirates Stadium, they duly did it once Theo Walcott had made his entrance as a substitute, even adding a third goal for good measure and returning to the top of the group table.
The upshot is that a draw in the final match away to Porto, who also have 10 points, will suffice, whether or not CSKA Moscow (eight points) win in Hamburg. But defeat could mean Arsenal failing to progress beyond the group stage for the first time since the bad old days of playing home games at Wembley seven years ago, a poss-ibility greatly enhanced by Henry's absence.
"I don't think I should be missing the game," he insisted. "For me, the two yellow cards I received in the games against CSKA were not bookings. In fact, [for] the first card, not only did the ref rule out a perfectly good goal, he booked me for handball! What can you do?"
Well, tread more carefully in the following games for a start. Instead, Henry clattered into a Moscow defender right at the start of the next match, and from the start of last Tuesday's game he appeared to be in one of his more petulant moods. "Disgraceful" was how one old pro in the press box summed up Henry's performance.
In other circumstances, Arsène Wenger, knowing that a third booking would mean a suspension, might have been tempted either to leave his star striker out or take him off. But the first 45 minutes against Newcastle the previous Saturday, played with Henry resting in the dugout, showed how enfeebled Arsenal can be without him.
On that occasion he came on at half-time to equalise with a sublime free-kick; this time, instead of relaxing a little once Van Persie scored, he senselessly barged into a surprised Mathijsen and paid the inevitable penalty. "That's stupid, to get a yellow card like that," the otherwise admiring Dutch defender said later. "I passed the ball and he was too late and went through on me and it's a yellow card of course. It was late, the ball was gone for two seconds."
Mathijsen, who was in the Holland defence against England the previous week, admitted there had been a certain amount of niggling with Henry earlier, though nothing out of the ordinary. "It happens all the time, sometimes me, sometimes him. I also push a little bit at corners, you have to do everything so he doesn't score, and maybe he was a bit frustrated about that. If you have too much respect for him he'll score a goal. Of course I have respect for all my opponents, but not too much.
"We had no points and Arsenal had to win, so the pressure was on them. We were fighting through the game because he wants to win. That's what he said to me, 'I do everything to win for the team', and I do too. When the final whistle's blown you shake hands, and he said, 'I hope you'll be the same against Moscow', and I took his shirt."
The quid pro quo, Mathijsen promised, is that Hamburg will do their very best against CSKA, not only to improve their dismal record in Europe and the Bundesliga this season, but bec-ause he bel-ieves Arsenal and Porto are the best teams in the group. For his part, Henry says: "I just have to accept the suspension. It won't be easy, as Porto are a good side, but we have a great spirit here and we can make it through to the next stage."
Emmanuel Adebayor will probably stand in for him, as he did when Arsenal produced their best result of the season in winning 1-0 away to Manchester United. The gangling Togolese striker, who scored the goal that day, said of next week's task: "Of course Thierry's very important and we know it'll be difficult without him. We have to do the job."
Arsenal ought still to be capable of that. But the man who is now captain of the club, the leading goal- scorer and the most capped international in their history has let them down with his indiscipline.Reuse content