Henry out until Christmas as Wenger puts his foot down

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger faces another week of reckoning with matches against Porto and Chelsea, but he is planning for it without Thierry Henry, whose injury problem could rule him out until Christmas and, as things stand, will not be part of the Arsenal manager's plans for their potentially season-defining visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Suspended for the Champions' League qualifier against Porto and left out of Saturday's victory over Tottenham, Henry still dominated the agenda, first by launching a fierce denial of the reports he had fallen out with Wenger on Friday over his exclusion from the team to play Tottenham and then by thrusting himself centre stage at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday by celebrating on the side of the pitch, and eventually on it, with his team-mates.

The key issue is Henry's fitness and, although reports that he would be out until the new year are a worst-case scenario, Wenger made it very clear that the 29-year-old would not be able to come straight back into the reckoning after he recovers from his sciatic nerve problem. The manager is understood to be reconciled to the prospect of playing a young side, with Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor in attack, against Chelsea.

"He [Henry] is tired and needs to recover," Wenger said. "When you don't play for a while you need to prepare to be fit. You can't sit at home for five days and switch off and hope to come back at the top level. You need to take time."

Asked on the BBC's Match of the Day whether Henry's problems were because he had played so many games over the last four years, Wenger said: "I don't know. It is very difficult to explain and very difficult to speak about that before we sit down."

Wenger was conciliatory about the schedule for Henry's return but he did not try to hide the fact that he had been in disagreement with his brilliant, if temperamental, captain. "I'm not happy or unhappy with him," he said. Later he added: "We have a very good relationship and I think we will have a good relationship in the future again."

In public, there has never before been any hint of a division between Wenger and his most celebrated player, although it was abundantly clear on Saturday that the Arsenal manager was giving away just enough to show his displeasure and no more. Should Arsenal fail to get the point in Portugal on Wednesday that they need to reach the Champions' League knockout stages, Wenger may be forced to reassess his captain's fitness but for now he is ready to play Chelsea without Henry.

After defeats to Bolton and Fulham, Wenger said that the 3-0 victory over Tottenham showed Arsenal were not a "one-man team". "We have a very young team and they learn with experience: to be a good football player is OK but it is not enough. To win you need to become consistent at the top level and this team has great character every time we are challenged. The challenge is to be consistent."

Tottenham's 3-0 defeat was fraught with controversy, with questions over the award of both Arsenal's penalties. Penalised for the first spot-kick for a foul on Tomas Rosicky, Tottenham full-back Pascal Chimbonda accused the Czech international of being a "diver".

"The referee took two decisions which made it very difficult for us," Chimbonda said. "For their first penalty I touched the ball - everybody could see that. On the television afterwards it showed I touched the ball. I think that Rosicky dived. It was no penalty."

Do Arsenal need Henry?

Arsenal's record so far in the 2006-07 season

* Playing with Henry: P17 W8 D5 L4

* Playing without Henry: P7 W6 D0 L1