Wenger happy with 'healthy' delay over new Henry contract

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The Independent Football

The future of Thierry Henry has become a subject so all-consuming at Arsenal that even the club's most famous alumni are now joining the public debate on whether he should stay or go. Ian Wright has become the latest of them to tell Henry to leave, but yesterday Arséne Wenger said that the striker's delay in making his decision to sign a new contract was the "healthy" choice.

The Arsenal manager will not thank Wright for proclaiming that his "gut feeling" is that Henry will leave - "If I was in the same position as him I would" - but he said that the Frenchman's delay in deciding his future was natural. With 18 months remaining on his contract, Wenger said that the 28-year-old had a decision to make that would define the rest of his career and should be given the time to consider his future.

"I feel you have to accept when you arrive at 29 it is your last contract and you wonder 'What do I do now?'," he said "You have to accept that. That is healthy. I would not rush him into a decision. When he is ready he has to do it. What you want from your players is that once they are committed, it is because they really believe. That inside of them, they want to be part of it.

"If Henry makes a decision now, it means his entire life will be at Arsenal or something else. I want Thierry to stay for the rest of his career. I feel he will be a real part of Arsenal. He will be a legend for this club anyway. He could make his life a whole Arsenal achievement. I can understand a player who wants to move every year, and can understand a player who wants to have an impact on the life of a club for the whole history of the club. I feel I would like him to stay."

As far as Wright's opinions were concerned, Wenger said that a poll of 100 former "legends" would produce 100 different opinions on whether Henry should stay or go. The suggestion that the player has been in secret contact with the Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, who announced his intention to sign the Frenchman last month, was, Wenger said, an attack on the integrity of Henry.

"There is a suggestion Thierry Henry is talking behind our back to other clubs - I know Thierry Henry well enough. He is straight and honest," he said. "He would never do that behind our back. We have to respect that. I feel to question his attitude towards the club, or his honesty, is unfair. He is not allowed to talk to another club and he would never do that."

Henry will be rested for today's FA Cup third-round tie against Cardiff City as will Sol Campbell, Cesc Fabregas and Jens Lehmann. The French striker, who has a minor Achilles problem, will also not figure in next Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final first leg away at Wigan Athletic although Wenger is expected to strengthen the side with at least two senior players.

The Arsenal manager has also struck back at criticism that Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Manchester United was, in his words, a "crap game". Wenger said yesterday that friends from abroad had called to tell him how much they had enjoyed the encounter.

"I can understand that you are frustrated as there were no goals and it was a locked game but the quality of the game was not poor," he said. "It was just that the two teams couldn't get the breakthrough. If you'd had exactly the same quality of passing, closing down and pace, and made it a 2-2 or 3-3, you'd have said it was a great game."

Robin van Persie yesterday confirmed he has committed his long-term future to the club by signing up until 2011.

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