On a night like tonight you can’t help but ask yourself who got the better deal out of Thierry Henry leaving Arsenal this summer. Many people, myself included, predicted that a Barcelona strikeforce boasting Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi would fire them to glory on all fronts this season. They missed Eto’o last season and Ronaldinho was far from his best and still they were in the title picture domestically and challenging in Europe.
Meanwhile Arsene had a typically frugal summer spending very little money on strengthening a squad whose season last year hinged entirely on the Carling Cup final. If you compare the two surely there could be only one answer. Was it even in doubt that Thierry got the better end of the deal? Based on the evidence of tonight you’d have to say that not only was it in doubt, it was incorrect too. While Henry’s Barcelona toiled in Glasgow and went home with only a draw his old club were setting records. The scoreline of 7-0 (a Champions League record) did not flatter them either.
Whilst the real test will come at Anfield and then at home to the reigning champions Manchester United (who also won comfortably), the quality of football played during the demolition of Slavia Prague (who, in case it’s been forgotten, scored two goals in Seville) was on another level. As a fan who witnessed the unbeaten season first-hand it was even better than that. Fabregas’ vision and execution was brilliant, the defence was rarely tested (and when it was Almunia showed why he’s kept Jens out of the side) and up front young Theo Walcott showed that English players can succeed at Arsenal if they’re good enough (and more importantly have the right attitude).
Tonight is not the only place where the contrast can be made out. Where Arsenal are sitting high at the top of the league table unbeaten this season having scored a massive 21 goals in 9 games and conceded just 6, enjoying a 2 point lead (plus a game in hand), Thierry Henry’s new team were beaten on the weekend, sit in fifth and are 2 points behind first-placed Real Madrid. Players like Alexander Hleb, who looked lost at sea when Henry was in the side, seem invigorated by the newfound freedom they have with him gone and Barcelona have struggled to fit their prized jewel into a side that already boasts three world class front men. Maybe less really is more.
Happy birthday Arsene and congratulations to young Theo who proved people wrong.