Henry walks fine line in broadside at critical fans

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The Independent Online

Thierry Henry has spoken often about anger in recent months - it constitutes an element of the fuel that fires him - but, in the wake of recent results for Arsenal, it has been replaced by frustration. That boiled over in his programme notes ahead of the Champions' League tie at home to CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night when he also used a platform aimed at chiding the media to criticise the Arsenal fans.

"We were all frustrated on Saturday," he wrote in reference to the draw against Everton, "and at the end of the game, if we haven't got the result, then fine, groan and complain then - we are all disappointed when we don't get the result - believe me. But it really doesn't help groaning at the players when there is still an hour or so to go, far from it actually, it can get on top of you."

There was more. "Also on Saturday I saw some fans leave early when we were looking for a goal. We were constantly attacking... I just wanted you to know that the players do notice it."

They left early against CSKA as well as Arsenal, after spurning their constant flurry of clear-cut chances, gradually ran out of impetus in a goalless stalemate. Vast swathes of seats were cleared in the final minutes - and some of those exiting were "grumbling" about Henry, whose contribution was a disappointment in an at times brilliant team display and whose body language, something he expresses more clearly than most, was unmistakable. It is not what is expected of a captain especially in such a young team.

Afterwards Henry was again asked about his own criticisms and pleaded that his intent was simply not to give "ammunition to people who want to make things bigger than they are" and "because I love the fans". However, the striker added, with the Emirates Stadium having a far higher capacity than Highbury, that "maybe I say, in a joking way, that those [extra] fans are used to watching the highlights, seeing just good football".

It is a fine line to tread and one that deserves a mature debate. Henry should not be vilified for voicing concerns. But, at heart, there appears to be a self-absorption again being exposed and that was a trait in his character that came to dominate the second half of last season as well when the talk was constant about whether he was leaving for Barcelona. He eventually signed a new contract.

Henry would argue - with justification - that he can do little to affect media speculation but clearly he also contributed to it. That is fine fine when he is the irrepressible talisman, the best striker in the world that he is, but when he falls marginally short of those incredibly high standards it can become a distraction.

He has been here before. Two years ago, and with a troublesome Achilles, Henry, the pundit Alan Hansen claimed, performed well only when those around him played well - and that prevented him from being a great player. The Frenchman emerged from that criticism to take a grasp on Arsenal's season.

The same happened last year. Then Arsenal were enduring their worst start to a Premiership campaign since 1994 only for Henry to explode into life - and also galvanise their European campaign with two wonderful goals against Sparta Prague in November. That contribution also came in the face of attacks he was facing over how he played for his country. He then helped to lead France to the World Cup final.

Such are the demands on Henry, and they will not fade. "We are in a dogfight," he said of Arsenal's position in Champions' League Group G. But, once again, they now need a little more from their top dog.

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