Glenn Moore: Why the return of Henry could be exactly what Arsenal need to make their quality count

The New Year Dossier: Managers need a player who is a bit different, a bit special, who is hard to mark and makes things happen

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The Independent Football

While the impending absence of Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh at the Cup of African Nations may have been the main consideration behind Arsène Wenger bringing Thierry Henry back to Arsenal on a two-month loan, it is no coincidence he made the decision after watching his team being held at home by Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Arsenal dominated Tuesday's match at the Emirates, having 23 goal attempts to six and 13 corners to three, but the important statistic, goals, was one apiece. For much of the game Wolves defended deep, and in numbers, and when Arsenal did break through they found Wayne Hennessey in fine form. Wenger would not be human if he had not wondered, as the minutes ticked by, whether Henry might have made the difference.

Arsenal were not alone in their frustration. On Boxing Day, Chelsea and Liverpool drew at home to Fulham and Blackburn respectively while Manchester City endured a stalemate at West Bromwich Albion. Then came this crazy weekend with both Manchester clubs and Chelsea losing.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but these matches actually reflect the imbalance of quality in the Premier League as well its increased depth. Most clubs now visit top six teams knowing that if they attempt to match their hosts in a game of flowing football they will lose as man-for-man, often every man-for-man, the opposition are better. As a result they aim to squeeze space, suffocate opponents, and hope to nick a goal at a set play or on the break. Increasingly teams do this at home as well, especially against Manchester City, who are so devastating themselves on the counter-attack.

Albion, and, as yesterday's game wore on Sunderland, did just that, erecting two deep banks of four across their half. City's defenders were allowed possession, but once the ball went forward City were pressed in numbers. "When you a play a team with all players behind the ball at home, if you don't score in the first half it's not easy, you don't have any space. It was difficult," said Roberto Mancini. Some City fans complained about Albion's approach but can they really be blamed? City have spent £287m net on players in the last three years; Albion's net investment in that time is £7.5m.

The points gained by Wolves and Blackburn at the Emirates and Anfield were classic backs-to-the-wall instances: a fortuitous goal supported by excellent goalkeeping and last-ditch defending. But at The Hawthorns Ben Foster made few saves of any note, while for Albion Jerome Thomas hit the post and Shane Long put a free header wide.

Nor was it a siege at Stamford Bridge. Fulham may have played 4-1-4-1, but the holding midfielder was Danny Murphy and the midfield four were all attack-minded. Only towards the end did Fulham get everyone behind the ball.

Having so many technical players on the pitch gave Fulham's defending a different dimension. "That game was unusual because Fulham kept the ball for long periods," said Chelsea's manager, Andre Villas-Boas. "We finished even in terms of possession. They had the ability to keep the ball." Most Premier League teams do these days, for despite the concentration of talent in half a dozen clubs the standard has risen across the board because of the huge influx of foreign players most of whom are technically proficient.

Five days later Chelsea fared even worse as Villa – whose game plan, admitted manager Alex McLeish, included winger Marc Albrighton marking Ashley Cole and passing midfielder Stephen Ireland playing a pressing game – soaked up pressure, then hit them on the break. At Old Trafford, meanwhile, Rovers took advantage of defensive errors at set pieces to defeat a United team who had 26 shots to 10 and 58 per cent of possession.

United's lack of defenders was significant because while "weaker" teams, if organised, can usually defend well and counter-attack, they usually struggle to score when the big team is not committing men forward. Thus these matches often hinge on who scores first.

Manchester United's 5-0 defeat of Wigan on Boxing Day was typical. Wigan defended so deep there were ten of their players in the box when Park Ji-sung drove in a cross from the overlapping Patrice Evra. After that a United victory was inevitable, even if the scale of it was influenced by Conor Sammon's dismissal. What the big team cannot afford to do is concede once ahead, as Arsenal did against Wolves and Chelsea against Villa.

"They got very deep," said Wenger of Wolves. "In these type of games you have to score first. When you do you have to be absolutely rigorous to keep the lead. If not it becomes very difficult."

It is then that managers need a player who is a bit different, a bit special, who is hard to mark and makes things happen. Though Manchester United have found it harder to put teams away without Cristiano Ronaldo, they have Nani. Spurs have Gareth Bale, who shredded Norwich last week in a roving role. Chelsea have Juan Mata, though he can be isolated if played wide. Manchester City have several such players. Now Wenger, so reliant on Robin van Persie since Cesc Fabregas left, also has Henry.

He may not be as quick as he was over 30 yards, but against packed defences that is less relevant than the fact he has quick feet over five yards and is a cool finisher. Henry's return might not work, but it is worth a try.

Aston Villa v Swansea: Odds Home 5-6; Draw 12-5, Away 15-4.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Stiliyan Petrov is hopeful of featuring for Aston Villa despite limping out of the New Year's Eve win at Chelsea, while Darren Bent returns after coming off the bench at Stamford Bridge. Emile Heskey (Achilles) could also return. Swansea welcome back Steven Caulker after he missed the draw with parent club Spurs.

Blackburn v Stoke City: Odds Home 6-4; Draw 9-4, Away 15-8.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Gaël Givet (heart) is in line to bolster the Blackburn defence after missing four matches, while David Dunn, Martin Olsson and Junior Hoilett (all hamstring) also return. Stoke have doubts over Andy Wilkinson (back) after he limped out of the New Year's Eve draw with Wigan, while Cameron Jerome is pushing for a starting berth.

Queen's Park Rangers v Norwich City: Odds Home 11-10; Draw 12-5, Away 5-2.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Paddy Kenny (side) could be fit to take his place in the QPR goal, but Fitz Hall (groin) and Anton Ferdinand (hamstring) are out. Norwich are without Marc Tierney (groin) and Ritchie de Laet (back), while Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson – scorer against Fulham on New Year's Eve – are competing for a starting place up front.

Wolves v Chelsea: Odds Home 11-2; Draw 3-1, Away 8-15.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Eggert Jonsson and Emmanuel Frimpong are added to the Wolves squad, while Steven Fletcher is expected to feature despite taking a knock against Bolton and Dave Edwards (illness) may start. Nenad Milijas remains suspended. Chelsea are expected to make changes from the side that lost at home to Aston Villa on New Year's Eve.

Fulham v Arsenal: Odds Home 3-1; Draw 5-2, Away 10-11.

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Bobby Zamora (Achilles) and Andy Johnson (groin) again miss out for Fulham, but Damien Duff could start and Simon Davies may be involved. Arsenal are without Thomas Vermaelen (calf) after the Belgian went off during the New Year's Eve win over Queen's Park Rangers.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion: Odds Home 2-5; Draw 7-2, Away 7-1.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 7.45pm (Highlights Sky Sports 1 10.25pm)

Team news: Michael Dawson and Jermain Defoe are pushing for recalls for Spurs as the club approach four home games in 12 days, but Scott Parker is a doubt. West Bromwich have worries over Chris Brunt (leg), Shane Long (back), Youssouf Mulumbu (groin) and Jonas Olsson (calf).

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland: Odds Home 13-8; Draw 23-10, Away 17-10.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 7.45pm (Highlights Sky Sports 1 10.25pm)

Team news: Gary Caldwell serves a one-match suspension for Wigan following his red card at Stoke on New Year's Eve, so Steve Gohouri could be recalled to Roberto Martinez's side. Simon Mignolet may keep his place for Sunderland, while Wes Brown is a doubt.

Manchester City v Liverpool: Odds Home 5-6; Draw 5-2, Away 7-2.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Sky Sports 1 10.25pm)

Team news: Manchester City will make changes from yesterday's defeat at Sunderland, with Micah Richards, Gaël Clichy, David Silva, James Milner and Sergio Aguero pushing for recalls. Mario Balotelli is a doubt. Liverpool welcome Luis Suarez back, while Steven Gerrard may start.

Everton v Bolton Wanderers: Odds Home 8-15; Draw 3-1, Away 11-2.

Kick-off Wednesday, 8pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.45pm)

Team news: Victor Anichebe is pushing for a starting place after coming off the bench at West Bromwich yesterday to score, while Landon Donovan could make his second debut for the club as he begins a new loan spell from LA Galaxy. For Bolton, Sam Ricketts may keep his place at left-back after scoring against Wolves on New Year's Eve.

Newcastle United v Manchester United: Odds Home 4-1; Draw 13-5, Away 8-11.

Kick-off Wednesday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1 10.45pm)

Team news: Leon Best and Hatem Ben Arfa may be recalled in place of Haris Vuckic for Newcastle, while Ryan Taylor is a doubt. Wayne Rooney could return for Manchester United after missing the New Year's Eve defeat against Blackburn, while Anderson should start.