Wigan Athletic 2 Arsenal 3: Henry provides pointed reminder of departure fears

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Arsenal manager spurned a glorious opportunity for petty point-scoring ahead of the visit to Wigan, electing to offer only words of consolation on Ferguson's loss than reopen a rivalry that has been dulled by Chelsea's pre-eminence. It was a decision made to look all the more prescient by confirmation at the JJB Stadium that, in terms of a captain's current contribution and influence, the departure of Henry and not Roy Keane would inflict greater damage on the future of their respective clubs.

Debate over how Arsenal would fare without the finest goalscorer in their history will rage for as long as his new contract remains unsigned and Barcelona continue to play the temptress. The fact they would have lost to Wigan in the absence of Henry on Saturday would have proved a grim realisation for Wenger on an otherwise comfortable journey home.

Wigan's players and supporters put an unfamiliar sense of disappointment aside to applaud Henry off a bog of a pitch following his outstanding role in a quite outstanding contest, one that brought the home side their first defeat since 20 August and Arsenal their first away win of the season.

After an afternoon spent in pursuit of the relentless French international, the beaten captain, Arjan De Zeeuw, spoke for all afterwards when he magnanimously conceded: "It would be a massive loss to Arsenal and to football in this country if he left next summer."

Henry struck twice in a memorable first half, at the end of an incisive move to double a lead established by Robin van Persie and then with an immaculate free-kick from 25 yards that kissed the inside of John Filan's post to restore Arsenal's two-goal advantage once Henri Camara had headed Wigan back into contention. Following the execution of the free-kick Henry turned to the pedantic Graham Poll, who had ordered him to wait for the whistle, to ask: "Is that good enough?" But beneath his justifiable arrogance there is also a humility that is rarely discussed.

De Zeeuw revealed: "He apologised to me when I was booked for what was a rash challenge but which didn't hurt him at all. He came over and said, 'I'm sorry, I didn't want to make a meal of it or get you booked'. He's not that type of player anyway. He is one of the more honest players around. People think he is arrogant, because of the way he carries himself, but he's not like that at all. At the end of the game he said we were a bit unlucky, and genuinely he is a nice guy. The problem is he does try to lure you into a feeling of well-being, and then sprints away to score a goal, before jogging back and saying, 'Sorry mate.' But the one thing he is not is a stitch-up merchant."

For the victors and the vanquished, this was a test of character they both overcame. For Wigan, given further hope when Jimmy Bullard scored a wonderful second on the stroke of half-time, there was confirmation before the biggest crowd in the club's history of the spirit and no lack of quality that has underpinned their rise.

However, the manager Paul Jewell insisted: "I said to my players at the end of the game, don't enjoy glorious defeats, don't bask in the glory of getting beaten like that. The day you're satisfied is the day you stand still." As for Wenger, here was further evidence of the growing maturity of his re-emerging team, though one that can only truly flourish with Henry a part of it.

Goals: Van Persie (11) 0-1, Henry (21) 0-2, Camara (28) 1-2, Henry (41) 1-3, Bullard (45) 2-3.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Chimbonda, Henchoz, De Zeeuw, Baines; Bullard, Francis (Taylor, 78), Kavanagh, McCulloch (Connolly, 87); Camara, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Pollitt, Jackson, Mahon.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cygan; Pires (Flamini, 75), Silva, Fabregas, Ljungberg (Senderos, 90); Van Persie (Bergkamp, 75), Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia, Reyes.

Referee: Graham Poll (Tring).

Booked: Wigan: De Zeeuw, Kavanagh, Roberts. Arsenal: Toure, Cygan, Flamini.

Man of the match: Thierry Henry.

Attendance: 25,004.