Door open for Henry as Wenger keeps watching brief

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger has not ruled out a return to Arsenal next season for Thierry Henry. The manager of the Gunners responded yesterday to comments made by Henry to BBC's Football Focus in which he said that while he was happy at Barcelona, if he returned to play in England it would mean a return to his old club, adding: "There's only one team in England for me."

Asked about the possibility of Henry moving back to the club for whom he scored 174 Premier League goals in 254 appearances, Wenger responded: "You can never say never, but at the moment I don't think about that." Wenger made it clear, however, that he is still in close touch with his former player, whom he believes has "a lot to offer" despite enduring recent criticism after a troubled season in Spain.

"Barcelona were never really in the race for the championship and their players got a little bit devalued," Wenger said. "I had a chat with Thierry not a long time ago. He watches every Arsenal game – he can keep me advised! I watch Barcelona as well when I can. I'm always interested in how he looks, how he has found his sharpness, in what position he plays. I gave him my views about his game."

Wenger has his own take on why Henry has failed to make an impact at the Nou Camp, scoring only seven goals in 25 appearances. "For me, Thierry is an efficient goalscorer but they have two or three players there in the centre. I think what was a little bit damaging for his success at Barcelona is that Ronaldinho has not turned up this year and the closest one to play on the left wing is Thierry. It is not his preferred position and it's not where he is most efficient."

On the question of whether the 30-year-old France striker needs to move to revive his career Wenger commented: "In football things can change quickly if you have talent – and he has plenty."

Wenger's more immediate concern is to prevent players leaving rather than encouraging them to come in and he responded angrily to recent comments by the coach of Internazionale, Roberto Mancini, that he would like to sign Arsenal's midfielder Alexander Hleb. Wenger agreed to the suggestion that Mancini's comments had been disrespectful, adding: "The way they proceeded is absolutely unacceptable and I will consider filing a complaint to Uefa. If Inter want to buy a player why do they not call me? If I want a player from Inter I call them. Some Italians are always the same – they use the agent to destabilise the players."

Wenger refused to discuss whether he had spoken to Hleb about the matter. On the question of whether the player could buy out his contract, he said: "He can buy it out but not Inter themselves." Asked what his response might be to any request from Inter, Wenger merely added: "I want to keep the team together." To that end, he will also be hoping for a positive response from midfielder Mathieu Flamini, known to be a target for Juventus, who has a deadline of Wednesday to agree a new contract. "He wants to stay, we want him to stay and we have made him an offer," Wenger said. "Is the offer good enough? We'll know soon. But we want to respect the wage structure."

Wenger is now seeking to finish Arsenal's season with three victories which would give his team more wins than they managed when they went through the whole of the 2003-04 season unbeaten. Three points appear well within their compass on Monday when they visit Derby.

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