Wenger concerned by pressure on Henry

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, said yesterday that Thierry Henry had set a "deadline" of the start of the World Cup finals on 9 June to decide his future at the club. However, the Frenchman also spoke of his concern that "too much pressure" was being put on his captain before the European Cup final on Wednesday.

That was in reference to the constant comparisons which are inevitably being drawn between Henry and Ronaldinho and the effect they may have on the eagerly awaited contest but Wenger also knows that the continuing issue of the player's contract deliberations have weighed heavily.

Henry has one more year to run and despite his public declarations that he wants to stay - declarations that he has since watered down - nothing has yet been agreed.

"Winning the trophy is all that counts," Wenger said when the "will he, won't he?" question was raised. "We don't care what happens the day after or the day after that - it's the day of the game that we want to win the trophy back. I believe he [Henry] will make a decision before [the] World Cup. That starts on 9 June so that is the deadline. We will decide after Wednesday."

Wenger has long maintained that the result of the match cannot have a bearing on Henry's decision. He feels the player could not simply pin his future on 90 minutes but the qualification for next season's Champions' League, reached on the last day of the Premiership, has certainly helped.

Indeed, it cannot be discounted that the 28-year-old will make an announcement on the day of the game that he is staying at the club. He did exactly that before the 2003 FA Cup final - using the pages of The Sun newspaper, to whom he is contracted.

It is a decision that is in the balance - although that balance has tipped back towards Arsenal over the past few months, but only slightly. And it is made all the more dramatic because in Paris they will play Barcelona, the club Henry is most likely to join should he leave.

For Henry there is the added emotional force of a return to his home city.

"He is one of the few players who plays at home in Paris," Wenger said. "He know the Stade de France well and he plays for France there. The big players will be under pressure to perform. I will enjoy it if their big players are quiet."

The future of a few other of Wenger's "big players" is also in doubt. Robert Pires has been offered only a one-year contract extension, but wants two, and is wanted by a number of clubs led by Villarreal while Dennis Bergkamp is to retire. Sol Campbell may also be on the point of leaving - something which will concern Wenger less than the uncertainty over where Ashley Cole will be next season.

"That is not decided and we will talk after," Wenger said when asked about his players' futures. "First we go to Paris to win the trophy and after that we will cope, don't worry." Even so Wenger added: "We have prepared for the present and the future. The future is ahead of schedule."

The excitement surrounding the game, Wenger said, confirmed that "we are one of the biggest teams in the world. Everyone said Arsenal-Barcelona was the dream final and that means somewhere it is acknowledged that Arsenal are a very good football team."

Winning the trophy would not be an end in itself, Wenger said, although it will banish the criticism he has faced about an ability to cope in Europe's premier cup competition.

"We have to win the final," he said. "We want to win the trophy and I believe we will do it. For me it's just a natural step and give it our all. My career will never be good enough because it's the way I am. People judge whether we are good but I don't worry about that. I want to win it for the club, for the players and for me, but it's not what worries me."

It is the kind of statement that is only to be expected from one of the best managers in the game, as is his response to the issue of what has constituted his biggest disappointment while at Arsenal.

"I want to win Championship, the League Cup, the FA Cup and the European Cup - every year," Wenger replied. A victory on Wednesday will do for now.

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