Arsène Wenger put more than 800 miles between himself and Thierry Henry yesterday but the Arsenal manager could not quite escape the brooding presence of his injured captain. While the team travelled to Porto, for tonight's critical Champions League tie, Henry was left behind to undergo treatment on his neck and back injuries. These injuries have provoked such a loss of form he was dropped from Saturday's north London derby, and stormed out of training on Friday when he was told.
There has subsequently been something of a rapprochement between manager and captain and Wenger maintained the bridge-building yesterday. Yet while he heaped praise on his absent leader he also emphasised his team can prosper without the temperamental Frenchman.
"At the moment Thierry gets a lot of stick he does not deserve," said Wenger. "What he has done for the club is tremendous and he will do again tremendous things for the club. Gilberto [Silva, who has taken the armband] is a stronger leader than people expect but when Thierry returns, he will be the captain again."
"I am confident even without Henry because we have Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott to produce goals. Without Thierry, the young players will take responsibility. Adebayor is a good complement to Henry but he can play on his own well."
Yesterday Thierry Henry said he would do "nothing different" when asked if he regretted his behaviour in leaving the training ground.
He admitted that "sometimes I need to learn," that he doesn't always have to play. "I wanted to put myself forward when I was injured, for the team," Henry said.
"You saw on Saturday [against Tottenham] that the team didn't need me. They had an amazing game. Robin van Persie was tremendous. Adebayor had an amazing finish."
However, Henry said he would rather have played. "I'd rather go on the pitch injured," he said.
He said he could take the criticism he has faced over his behaviour in his stride. "It's not the first time I have been hammered, and it won't be the last," Henry said. "I have said it before so many times, whatever people want to speculate, I'll let them speculate."
Henry was not the only injured player concerning Wenger. He heard yesterday that Tomas Rosicky will be out for three weeks with a torn muscle. The Czech swells an injury list which, as well as Henry, also features William Gallas, Lauren and Abou Diaby. It is not the ideal basis for tonight's tie which, if it is lost, and CSKA Moscow win in Hamburg, would result in the Gunners failing to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the first time since 1999-2000. Nor is it timely given that Arsenal visit the champions on Sunday. A draw will put both sides through.
Porto (4-3-3, probable): Helton; Bosingwa, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fucile; Meireles, Assuncao, Lucho; Lisandro, Postiga, Quaresma.
Arsenal (4-1-4-1, probable): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Clichy; Gilberto; Ljungberg, Fabregas, Flamini, Van Persie; Adebayor.
Referee: M Merk (Germany).