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More than a one-man team

Wednesday night's UEFA Champions League final will pit two of the world's best strikers against each other when Arsenal's French ace Thierry Henry goes head to head with Barcelona's Brazilian bag of tricks Ronaldinho at the Stade de France in Paris.

It is the final all neutral fans wanted to see; two of the most exciting, attacking teams in football battling for the ultimate accolade in European football, lead by two World Cup winners.

Barca's talisman Ronaldinho has won rave reviews, not to mention the FIFA World Player of the Year award en route to the final, but the Gunners own star man insists that while he admires his opposite number he is not the only danger his young Arsenal team face.

'Well I think, you can talk about Ronaldinho for a very long time, everyone knows what he can do, how he does it, where he does it, any game, any position on the pitch he does his thing, that's why people admire him.,' Henry said.

'But it's not only Ronaldinho. And that's what I'm trying to explain to people. You're gonna have to face Eto'o and Messi, you're gonna have to face Deco, you're gonna have to face Iniesta - who has been amazing against Milan - you're gonna have to face Edmilson, you're gonna have to face Puyol, you're gonna have to face so many players.'

As the list of household names on the Barcelona team sheet roll off Henry's tongue it seems hardly surprising that the French international has himself been linked with a move to the Camp Nou revolution next season.

At Highbury, Henry is arguably the team's only world star and although the 28-year-old skipper often revels in the pressure , it is understandable if he is casting an envious glance at Frank Riijkard's free flowing, talent-rich side.

But despite all the constant speculation, the Paris-born striker still will not be drawn on his future and is equally dismissive about a nostalgic return to the city of his birth having any bearing on his blinkered focus on the final.

'I think everyone's gonna think that there's a great story there. Being French, going back there, winning...I won the World Cup there, but at the end of the day I said to everyone else that even if the final wasn't at the Stade de France in Paris, for me, you know, I did wait for such a long time to be in a final of the Champions League. Paris or not Paris, it's the same thing.'

Henry's started his career back in 1994 under manager Arsene Wenger at French club Monaco. After an unsuccessful move to Serie A side Juventus it was Wenger who brought Henry to Highbury when he took over as Arsenal manager in 1999.

Under Wenger, Henry evolved into the superstar he is today as Arsenal also steadily progressed.

At international level Henry has already won both the World Cup and European Championship, but on the domestic scene this is the first time either Arsenal or Henry have reached the European Cup final.

But the ambitious striker is not satisfied with simply making the final and becoming another entry in the London club's long history.

'We made the semi-final for the very first time and we made the final. And as I said people will remember that. But the history that you're looking for is to be able to win it.'

What makes Arsenal's achievement even more impressive is that they have rewritten the club record books with a team that is currently enduring a rebuilding process and injury crisis that has prematurely thrust Highbury's young talent in to the spotlight.

Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabrigas has revelled in the role vacated by Patrick Vieira and Mathieu Flamini, Philippe Senderos and Emmanuel Eboue have forged a makeshift defence that is the meanest in the history of the Champions League - yet it wasn't always a smooth transition.

'Well I would like to say that it took a bit of time to adjust, you know, sometimes people had to play out of positions, and it wasn't easy for them. And when you're young sometimes you're gonna learn the hard way, and unfortunately for us we did learn the hard way in the league.

'But on another side everything came back, if I can say, to normal, in the Champions League time. And I think when we won away from home at Real Madrid, that did help a bit in the mind of the youngsters, that they actually can do it.'

If Arsenal's youthful team can complete the task in Paris then they may just do enough to persuade their father figure to remain at Highbury.


  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.