Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed Thierry Henry will “certainly” return to the club in some capacity in the future.
Henry confirmed on Monday that he will leave the New York Red Bulls after four-and-a-half years with the Major League Soccer franchise, prompting speculation that a return to Arsenal could be in the offing.
The Gunners’ all-time record goal scorer has retained close links with the club since leaving for Barcelona in 2007 and trained at their Hertfordshire base before a brief loan spell during January 2012.
Henry had hinted during a recent interview with French newspaper L’Equipe he could be interested in a future coaching role with the Gunners, and Wenger insisted on Tuesday that Henry’s return is a certainty when asked about a reunion with the former France striker.
“He is an Arsenal man. The best moment certainly of his life and of his career has been experienced here,” Wenger said at a press conference ahead of Arsenal’s Barclays Premier League encounter against Southampton on Wednesday.
“Certainly one day he will come back here. In what role I don’t know, that is what he has to think about: what direction he wants to give to his next life.”
Henry joined the Red Bulls in 2010 following a successful playing career in Europe, where he was an integral part of Arsenal’s ’Invincibles’ side and also went on to win the 2009 Champions League with Barcelona.
The 37-year-old, a member of Les Bleus’ triumphant 1998 World Cup-winning squad, revealed he would now ”take the next few weeks to reflect” before deciding on his next career move after the Red Bulls’ MLS Cup campaign ended with a 4-3 aggregate defeat to rivals the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship play-off.
Monday’s statement from Henry read: ”I am taking this opportunity to announce that unfortunately Saturday was my last game for the New York Red Bulls.
”The decision has always been that I would leave after the duration of my contract and although that was never going to change, I didn’t want it to distract from the progress of the team.
”I have immensely enjoyed my four-and-a-half years here and would like to thank everyone involved with this club who has made my time here so enjoyable.
”Thanks must go particularly to Erik Soler, Hans Backe, Gerard Houllier, Andy Roxburgh, Mike Petke, all my team-mates, the technical staff, medical staff, all the personnel who work for the Red Bull organisation, the MLS and of course the owner Mr (Dietrich) Mateschitz, whose vision and passion brought me to this wonderful city.
”A special mention must go to the Red Bull fans who have supported this team through the good, the bad and the ugly times in the sun, rain and snow. You guys have really meant a lot to me and thank you for all your wonderful support.
”I will now take the next few weeks to reflect and decide on the next chapter of my career.”
Wenger feels Henry could make a successful transition into the dugout.
He said: “Thierry has all the qualities because he is intelligent, committed, he loves the game. He just has to think, ’Do I want to sacrifice all the rest of my life to be involved in that job?”’
Theoretically Arsenal could sign Henry as a free agent.
Wenger believes Henry has the capability to play at the required level still, but remains uncertain if he would want to.
“Yes (he can still do a job as a player), but 37 today in the Premier League... I don’t think he wants to do that again.
“Thierry has given a lot, he has come out (of the Premier League) with an image that is fantastic. I am not sure that he wants to play again in the Premier League.”
Asked by reporters how he would react if Henry was to call him and ask to come back to the squad, Wenger said: “I don’t think he wants to carry on. That is a virtual world.”
Arsenal tackle Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night with some injury problems in defence over Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also faces a fitness test.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny remains out because of a hip problem.
Wenger challenged his side to build on recent positive displays against Borussia Dortmund and West Brom as they look to close back up on the top four.
“We want to be competitive in every game,” he said,
“We have just had two very competitive games and the team we face on Wednesday night is a team who is a good team and who have started very well.”
Southampton have been the surprise outfit this season, holding their own under new boss Ronald Koeman and having already knocked Arsenal out of the Capital One Cup.
Wenger has been impressed by the Saints transition following the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino and several key players.
“If you look at their number of points and the number of games they have played, you have to consider them (for the top four) yes. If they can maintain their run, yes. We’ll know more about it in March,” said Wenger.
“At Christmas last season, they were in a very strong position and the fact that they could renew that, shows that they have stability in their performances.
“You have to consider the fact that they don’t play in Europe, so they can prepare well for every single game, that of course can be to their advantage.”
Wenger has again seen his position under scrutiny following an inconsistent opening to the campaign.
However, the Arsenal manager has stressed the need for unity, both on and off the pitch.
“The most important thing is that internally we are very united. Our job is to be competitive and to fight and that is the way we can do our job, only by being united,” he said.
“We are creating something special inside the club, but that has to come out through performances and games won.
“Our job is to win football games and that is what we want to do, that is the best way to unite everybody.”
Wenger added: “Before Christmas, what you want always to do is to make sure you are in the pot for the Champions League and that you fight at the top of the league.
“At the moment we have achieved the first target but not the second one so we have a battle in front of us to come back in there.”