Arsenal’s long drought of Irish first team players will continue after Conor Henderson confirmed he will quit the Emirates in May.
Not since Graham Barrett’s brief substitute appearance against Sunderland in January 2000 has an Irishman lined out for the Gunners in the Premier League, a far cry from the 1970s and ’80s when their team was dominated by the likes of Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, David O’Leary and Niall Quinn.
Despite recruiting Irish talent like Anthony Stokes and Stephen Bradley in their teens, these players have not made the top-flight breakthrough.
This very week two years ago, however, Irish U21 midfielder Henderson was going the right way towards living up to the comparisons with the stylish Brady. Arsene Wenger handed him his full debut in the FA Cup against Leyton Orient at the Emirates and spoke of a bright future for the playmaker. But the second cruciate knee ligament injury of his career — suffered in pre-season against Cologne — sidelined him for almost the entirety of last season.
At the start of this term, Wenger loaned Henderson to Coventry for three months, only for a different injury to curtail his progress.
“I’ve not played at Arsenal’s first team this season, so it’s the right thing to leave when my contract expires in the summer,” Henderson, 21, said last night. “I’ve been with the club since my childhood but, like most of the Arsenal youngsters over the years, I need a move to get football.
“At my age, I have to be playing regularly and I can’t get that at Arsenal, only U21 matches. I’ve been training with the first-team every day until the injury struck. Since I’ve come back, that’s only happened once.
“It’s been a difficult few months but I’m optimistic about starting fresh at another club. Even Robbie Brady had to depart Manchester United for a new challenge and he’ll say he’s happy playing week in, week out at Hull.”
He added: “My agent has already received interest from a few clubs.”
Henderson switched allegiance in 2009 from England to Ireland after declaring through his parents and has played the last three Uefa U21 qualifiers.. “Of course, I’d love to follow Robbie and Jeff Hendrick from the U21s into the Ireland senior squad but I’ve got to be realistic,” he said. “My club career needs to be sorted before that can even be considered.”
l Arsenal will honour former striker Dennis Bergkamp with a statue outside their Emirates Stadium home, the club confirmed last night.
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