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May 17, 2006

Henry fluffs his lines

Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal

If this is goodbye, Thierry Henry will be left to look back on the Champions League final with regret.

So often the hero, so often the man to turn a game, this time he scuffed his chances when presented with the opportunity to make history for Arsenal. Whereas Steven Gerrard stepped up when it mattered in the FA Cup final, Henry was unable to repeat such heroics.

The pre-match hype over the Ronaldiho-Henry battle for supremacy never really materialized, largely due to the Gunners' enforced rearguard action following the dismissal of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann early in the game.

But despite Arsenal being forced to repel constant Barcelona pressure after the break it was the mercurial Frenchman who had the chance to put the game beyond doubt, after Sol Campbell had headed the Gunners into a 1-0 lead.

Time and time again Henry has shown ultimate composure in front of goal with only the goalkeeper to beat. Tonight that deserted him - and so did the Champions League - as he failed to produce on the big stage.

He first found himself clear when the score was goalless, Victor Valdes equal to his effort.

But the crucial miss came on 70 minutes as Barcelona's constant waves of attacks on the Arsenal goal were bringing little fruition. Rarely was substitute goalkeeper Manuel Almunia tested.

Henry then had the chance to write the ultimate epitaph on his Arsenal career by scoring the goal which would have floored the La Liga champions. But he badly scuffed his shot after being put through by Alexsander Hleb.

England's cricket team learned the hard way this week that you must take your chances to win matches, and now Henry, along with Hleb and Freddie Ljungberg, are all too aware that being wasteful in front of goal against the likes of Barcelona will come back to haunt you.

Henry seemed hesitant, unsure of where to place the ball. In the end all he managed to do was find the chest of Valdes.

Not that Ronaldinho covered himself in glory. The Brazilian didn't really influence the game until the second half when he finally decided to run at the Arsenal defence.

When he fired wide when presented with a gilt-edged opportunity by Samuel Eto'o probably summed up his night.

The brace from Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti sent the Stade de France into a frenzy. It was an atmosphere which had been sadly lacking for much of the game, with both sets of supporters stuggling to overcome the anxiety of the occasion.

Somehow Spanish fans always seem to smuggle flares into the ground, five was the count from the ESPN gantry. It may add to the atmosphere of a match, but once they've been extinguished the view for the massed journalists was more than a little cloudy.

Boss Arsene Wenger, a forlorn figure after the match, bemoaned his side's inability to take those chances - but also the linesman's failure to raise his flag for in the build-up to the first goal.

And he refused to be drawn on the future of Henry, simply responding to questions of his future with 'I don't know'.

Wenger said: 'I will try to talk to him because we have to prepare for next season.

'We have many young players in our team. We have a big future as a big team but we need Thierry Henry to achieve that.

'He has such an influence on our side and can help us become a major force in the world.

'He said he would sort it out before the World Cup and there's not long to wait now.'

If this is the end for Henry and Arsenal it will not have been the way he wanted to sign off. But in a game of such magnitude you need your star names to produce at such vital moments.

Against Victor Valdes, Henry fluffed his lines.

Henry may well be playing for the Champions League holders next season, but not at Ashburton Grove.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can e-mail Dale Johnson.