Thierry Henry’s emotional Arsenal exit and how Arsene Wenger could have prevented it

Arsene Wenger played arguably a bigger role than anyone else in Thierry Henry’s career, and there will be some Arsenal fans left wondering whether the long-serving manager could have convinced his compatriot to stay.

Henry’s record-breaking stint in north London ended in June 2007, with the former Monaco star scoring 174 goals in just 254 games.

However, if his comments upon moving to Barcelona are to be believed, Wenger might have been able to stop it.

At the time, Wenger’s future was far from certain. After more than a decade at the helm, the manager who oversaw the Invincibles season was being linked with a move away, and Henry wasn’t ready to wait things out with his mentor potentially moving on.

“He was like a father figure for me,” Henry said of Wenger in a 2020 interview. “So as you can imagine, with your dad, you argue, you scream, he punishes you. It’s complicated at times, but that’s what happens when you love someone.”

Wenger was the manager when Henry joined Arsenal from Juventus in 1999, but by the time he left he was coming to terms with the prospect of having to work under someone else. In the end, he chose Frank Rijkaard, giving himself agency rather than the doubt over what might happen in north London.

“Unfortunately and understandably, [Wenger] has said that at this moment he will not commit to the club past the expiration of his current deal, which finishes at the end of the coming season,” Henry wrote in an open letter, published at the time in The Sun. “I respect his decision and his honesty but I will be 31 at the end of next season and I cannot take the chance to be there without Arsene Wenger and David Dein.”

Ultimately, though, it was Barca – not Arsenal – who would change managers in 2008. Rijkaard made way at the end of Henry’s first season, with Pep Guardiola taking the reins and helping the forward enjoy his best season at Camp Nou.

Did Henry leave Arsenal at the right time? Have your say in the comments section

Henry won two league titles with Arsenal before moving to Barcelona

Henry won two league titles with Arsenal before moving to Barcelona
Getty Images Sport)

Wenger, meanwhile, only took a few more weeks to commit his longer-term future to Arsenal. He put pen to paper in September 2007, telling “My heart is tied to this football club so signing a new deal was always my intention.”

“Arsenal is the club of my life,” he continued. “I have been entrusted with complete freedom to implement and execute my plans on what will make the team successful and that means I have a responsibility to the fans to deliver silverware and also a responsibility to the players to help turn our potential into prizes.”

By this point, though, Henry had begun his next chapter. The forward would later tell UEFA that Guardiola left a big impression himself.

“I went to Barcelona, I learned a lot – a hell of a lot – about something that I thought I had down to a tee,” he said. “I thought I knew football, [but] at Barcelona I got de-programmed and re-programmed. Barca was special, man.”

Wenger's Arsenal future was uncertain in 2007

Wenger’s Arsenal future was uncertain in 2007
PA Archive/PA Images)

While Arsenal pushed for the title in 2007-08, Henry was finding his feet in Catalunya as part of a squad which was – at the same time – identifying Lionel Messi’s best role as the youngster continued to establish himself. “When I left Arsenal for Barcelona it took me a year to be well,” he would later reveal, while opening up on mental health issues which impacted him early on.

“I arrived injured, I’m going through a divorce, I have to learn a new system, you mix it all up, keep playing the mind.”

It raises an important question. If Wenger had signed the paperwork just two months earlier, might it have been enough to keep Henry around? Or was he paying lip-service, having already made up his mind?

Henry's best Barcelona form came under Pep Guardiola

Henry’s best Barcelona form came under Pep Guardiola
Getty Images)

“2007 was a decisive point,” Wenger later revealed in a documentary, as reported by The Evening Standard. “It’s the first time I could feel there were tensions inside the board.”

It was during this period that Stan Kroenke began buying shares in the club, and – while Henry’s concerns about Wenger’s future proved wide of the mark – former vice-chairman David Dein would end up leaving that year.

“I still today wonder if I did the right thing, because life was never exactly the same after,” Wenger said. “I thought, I now have to go to the end of this project. I could have gone to the French national team, the English national team twice or three times even.

“I could have gone twice to Real Madrid, I could have gone to Juventus, to Paris Saint-Germain, even to Man United. My fatal flaw is that I love too much where I am…where I was.”

Somehow, Arsenal were left unable to even capitalise on that loyalty. The threat of Wenger going was enough for Henry to leave, and the manager was unable to ever hit the same heights without his star man. How different things could have been, though.

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