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Apr 6, 2009

Henry's worst nightmare could come true

As the football fates have decreed that Thierry Henry will forever be associated with Arsenal FC, he will not want his final contribution to the club being the goal that sees them defeated in this season's Champions League Final.

Arsenal's all-time record goal scorer would doubtless delight in the sight of his mentor Arsene Wenger ending a long and often painful wait to land the one trophy that has eluded him in Rome next month, yet he can hardly admit as much when his loyalties are now in the Barcelona camp.

The draw for the latter stages of this season's Champions League has thrown up the possibility of a clash between Arsenal and Barcelona in the Final and such a scenario may well represent Henry's worst nightmare.

Ahead of this week's quarter-final ties featuring his current and beloved former employer, Henry admits he would struggle to fire a nail into Wenger's Champions League coffin.

"It would be very strange for me to play against Arsenal," confirms Henry, who is also chasing his first Champions League title this season. "When you have been associated with the club for as long as I was, it leaves a tie that cannot be broken and the idea of scoring against Arsenal is hard for me.

"I'm not saying I want to avoid the prospect of playing them in a Barcelona shirt, but it would be strange. I have not even been back to the Emirates Stadium since I left Arsenal, so to come up against so many old friends in a big game is something that would be difficult."

A meeting with Villarreal has been portrayed as somewhat of a fortunate draw for Arsenal in the English media ahead of Wednesday night's game at Estadio El Madrigal, yet Henry is of the opinion that the Spanish side, featuring his former Gunners team-mate Robert Pires, will test Wenger's in-form team.

"I'm sure most fans in England think Arsenal had luck on their side when they got Villarreal, but this tie could go either way," says Henry. "Villarreal aren't the biggest of names, but they are very competitive and well-organised. There is a solid base to them and their draws against Manchester United in the group stages proves it.

"Villarreal are very strong on the flanks, where they have Roby Pires on one side and Santi Cazorla on the other. Marcos Senna is much, much more than a holding player in midfield and they have some dangerous attackers too.

"Of course, Arsene Wenger will know all of this. The day he stops watching every DVD of European and world football will be the day he stops coaching, so he will make sure Arsenal are prepared for the game.

"If I had to pick a winner it would have to be Arsenal. The timing is right for them. They are in excellent form, have many important players returning from injury and have been boosted by the fact they have regained fourth-place in the Premier League."

Henry insists mid-season chatter of a crisis at Arsenal was blown out of proportion by a media pack who have been waiting to see Wenger trip up, yet the notion that a fourth place finish in the Premier League is the ideal scenario for a club who had Premier League title ambitions last summer seems a little fanciful.

The reality may be that this has been a poor season for the Gunners, but it could still end in the most glorious fashion possible with Champions League and FA Cup glory still a strong possibility.

"Talk of a crisis at the Emirates was never serious in my opinion," states Henry. "There is too much talent and spirit at the club for a blip to last long. The current Arsenal team is growing up fast and from the outside the togetherness looks impressive.

"Teams without too many domestic distractions tend to come good in the Champions League. I think it may be the case with Arsenal, especially if Cesc Fabregas stays fit. After winning on penalties against Roma, Arsenal must think destiny is with them."

Amid all this discussion of Arsenal, it's easy to forget that Henry is, in fact, a Barcelona player these days. The Frenchman took time to settle at the Nou Camp after his move from England in 2007, but he has found his feet in the grand manner this season as he had emerged as one of the main driving forces in a resurgent Barca line-up.

"After mainly playing through the middle at Arsenal, the switch to Barcelona meant getting used to a different tactical set-up and position on the field and this is never a straightforward process," he continues. "The press said I was always complaining about being used wide-left last season, but this wasn't true. I regularly play for France on the left, so it was never a problem and this season has worked out fine."

So to Wednesday night's game against Bayern Munich, who must be reeling after their stinging 5-1 thumping at the hands of Wolfsburg last weekend. "Bayern will not be easy meat," adds Henry. "They are a big club with plenty of experience of the Champions League.

"German sides don't tend to be overawed by opponents who are allegedly superior. They back themselves to come out on top. I'm not paying any attention to whether Bayern are dominating in the Bundesliga or not as they are a big-match team and I respect them.

"Naturally we have to keep a close eye on my France team-mate, Franck Ribery. I know exactly how devastating he can be. Even when he is deprived of space, he can still make things happen. We have a fantastic dribbler in Leo Messi and Bayern have Franck. He can hurt us, make no mistake about it."

The script may be set for Henry to square off against the one club he would hate to slay in this season's Champions League Final. This game requires you to be cruel at times.

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