Barcelona and Chelsea lie in wait as Henry stalls on contract talks

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The Independent Football

The announcement will fuel Barcelona's undoubted interest in the 28-year-old - an offer has already been proposed - and developments will also be closely monitored by Chelsea, who had a £50m bid for Henry rejected two years ago. The Frenchman will cost much less than that figure if he is sold next year, as he would have only 12months of his present deal still to run.

The nightmare scenario for Arsenal is that talks are delayed until after the season's end and just as they are moving to their new Emirates Stadium. They are also mindful that talks could be complicated further because of France's probable involvement in next year's World Cup.

Unlike Michael Owen, Henry would have no shortage of bidders. If he leaves Arsenal, he is also likely to leave the Premiership, with Spain - and Barcelona rather than Real Madrid - his most attractive destination. He is not believed to be keen on a return to Italy.

Henry has also made plain in the past he does not want to join Chelsea, but his admirers at Stamford Bridge remain.

The most likely scenario, it must be stressed, is that he will sign a new contract and stay at Arsenal. However, Henry has made clear to the club that he will not be rushed. Arsenal had hoped to negotiate an extension during the summer, but put off talks because Henry's wife gave birth.

Henry revealed, before the Community Shield, that "talks are on" and that he did not perceive any stumbling blocks, although he did also add: "I just hope we can find an agreement."

Arsenal's vice-chairman David Dein, who conducts negotiations, professed himself to be "quietly confident" that Henry would stay. The club's manager Arsène Wenger, perhaps foolishly, then set a deadline of the end of this year and said that he would use the six-week period during which Henry convalesces from a groin injury to try to sort things out.

Henry, it is understood, has not reacted well to such pressure, especially at a time when he is not playing, a situation that always affects his mood. He has told Arsenal he would rather concentrate on recovering.

But there are other factors. Despite being awarded the captaincy, which he cherishes, and despite his loyalty towards Wenger, in particular, Henry is still brooding over the sale to Juventus of his friend Patrick Vieira and has privately questioned Arsenal's ambitions.

It is understood that he is keen to see if there are any significant signings during the January transfer window and it certainly has not helped Arsenal's cause that they missed out on their main summer target, Julio Baptista. Several players regard the squad as too thin to cope and experienced reinforcements are needed.

Henry also wants to assess how Arsenal do this season, most obviously in the Champions' League, before he commits himself to a four or five-year deal. Their unconvincing start in the Premiership has not helped.

Henry used his captain's programme notes for Sunday's match against Birmingham City to attempt to draw a line under the issue for now. It did not amount to a ringing endorsement for his current employers.

He wrote: "At the start of the season, I said I wanted to concentrate on football, help my team winning trophies rather than worry about contracts. At the moment I have to deal with my injury, but the position is the same. At the end of the season we will talk and look to sort something out. I will speak to the boss, ask him about things, but my mind isn't on that at the moment."

Despite the player's stated desire to wait, Arsenal will try to resurrect negotiations before the season's end. Although they were prepared to allow Vieira to go, and still believe, at £13.5m, they received a good price for the 29-year-old, the situation is very different with Henry, whom they are desperate to keep.

He has been coveted for the past two seasons by Barcelona, whose president, Juan Laporta, used to work for Nike, who not only sponsor the Catalan club but also Arsenal and Henry. Barcelona are believed to regard Henry as their stellar signing for next summer.

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