Booed off in pre-season after gift of late goal, it's same old Arsenal
Old ghosts haunt the Gunners as even Henry's return to the Emirates fails to lighten gloom
Given they could not even win the tournament created for them by their sponsors – played at their own stadium with the opposition handpicked – then it is fair to say the portents for Arsenal's season are not good.
The Emirates Cup is a set of pre-season friendlies dressed up as a tournament in the robes of corporate sponsorship and no one should care who wins it – but context is all. The irony of Thierry Henry holding up the trophy with his New York Red Bulls yesterday after a 1-1 draw with Arsenal will not be lost on a club who have become masters of chucking away victories.
This is, after all, the same team that were in contention for all four domestic trophies in February and squandered them all, including a Carling Cup final to Birmingham City, and won only three out of their last 15 games in all competitions last season. Yesterday there were boos for Arsenal at the final whistle, which, even by the gloomy standards at the Emirates in recent years, must be a record in terms of early-season pessimism.
In classic Arsenal fashion, they took the lead through Robin van Persie in the 42nd minute, dominated the game, missed a bucketload of chances and gifted the opposition a late equaliser. Different season, same old story.
The home support might just have seen the funny side of coming third in the tournament which was designed for the express purpose of Arsenal winning it had they not now gone six years without a trophy – with the exception of three Emirates Cups. But the joke is starting to wear thin and yesterday's result renews the focus on Arsenal's deep-seated problems.
That is another summer of transition, another summer in which Arsenal face losing their star player and captain; this time against the backdrop of a growing feeling that Arsène Wenger has not been decisive enough in his dealings – be they new signings or tying players down with long-term contracts.
As for Cesc Fabregas, he was in the stadium yesterday following his very public exit at half-time of the draw with Boca Juniors the previous day, although it is hard to imagine seeing him on the Emirates pitch again in an Arsenal shirt. Like Henry, he may one day come back in the colours of another club but the longer his transfer saga drags on, so the relationship with the fans sours.
The sale of Fabregas is at the heart of everything for Arsenal if they are to turn the page and build a team without him. In his absence, there is still a very fine midfield three in Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song in the holding position behind them.
Wilshere came off after three minutes as a precaution after developing a problem with his ankle. Ramsey was excellent but failure this summer to sign Valencia's Juan Mata, in whom Arsenal are not the only team to have an interest, will leave a heavy burden on the shoulders of Ramsey, Wilshere and Nasri, who, even if he stays, will have one eye on the exit next summer.
Wenger's starting XI yesterday was arguably the best he could call upon with the exception of Fabregas, the injured Theo Walcott and Nasri, who was an unused substitute. Until substitute Kyle Bartley's own goal on 85 minutes they were hardly threatened but, as usual, they remain vulnerable to the defensive chaos that afflicted them so badly last season.
If he was watching, one can only wonder what Phil Jagielka, Wenger's first choice for a new centre-back made of it all. Last summer the Everton centre-half did not push for a move from Everton and he is known to have doubts about moving to Arsenal. This Arsenal defence does not inspire confidence, even with Thomas Vermaelen back.
Arsenal were undone by a clever pass by Henry that allowed Roy Miller to run down the inside-left channel in Arsenal's area and cross to the near post where Bartley could not stop himself turning the ball in. Before half-time, Van Persie had headed in Tomas Rosicky's free-kick with the Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost stranded. As ever, the target for Van Persie this year will be staying fit, so much of his time at Arsenal being undermined by injury.
At least Henry's return to the Emirates was a welcome distraction from the concerns that the home fans have over the future of their team. Given that his only other game at the stadium since he left in 2007 was with Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals in March 2010, this was a more appropriate occasion for the Arsenal fans to pay their respect.
Henry said after the game that he had requested to play for Arsenal in the second half but was told it was impossible. As the club's greatest goalscorer and arguably its greatest player, Henry is received with reverence. He is also a reminder of another era at the club when they were the pre-eminent team in the country, playing swashbuckling football that conquered all.
At times, they still play the same way but everyone knows this is a very different Arsenal team, seven years on from the 'invincible season'. If ever there was a reminder that Wenger needs to get his house in order, get Fabregas out and buy some players – specifically a central defensive partner for Vermaelen – then this was it. Being booed off in a pre-season friendly is a terrible way to start.
The one man who seemed to enjoy himself was Henry, who went on a solitary lap of honour for the few thousand Arsenal fans who stayed around for the nonsensical trophy presentation. If he had played for Arsenal in that second half then maybe they would have won the Emirates Cup but, as they know too well here, there is no point clinging to the past; it is all about the future.
Arsenal (4-3-3) Szczesny; Sagna (Eboue, 73), Koscielny (Bartley, 73), Vermaelen, Gibbs; Ramsey, Song, Wilshere (Afobe, 7 (Arshavin, 73)); Gervinho (Vela, 66), Van Persie (Chamakh, 65), Rosicky.
Substitutes not used Nasri, Djourou, Fabianski (gk), Jenkinson, Frimpong.
NY Red Bulls (4-1-4-1) Rost; Albright (Rooney, 78), Mendes (Keel, ht), Ream, Miller; Marquez; Richards, McCarty, Tainio (Agudelo, 55), Solli; Henry.
Substitutes not used Hertzog, Lassiter, Kassel, Coundoul (gk), Jones, Schneider.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).
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