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Arsenal: Who can fill Thierry Henry’s boots?


Colin Illingworth

Colin is a sub-editor on a regional newspaper and is a die-hard Aberdeen fan. He's prepared to sell his soul to the Devil for the Dons to return to their former glory so Satan, if you're reading this, give him a call!...
[full biography]
02/07/2007 08:00:00.
read: 1853 times.

How do you replace a player like Thierry Henry? Quite simply you can’t. But what Arsene Wenger can do is find the next hero for Arsenal fans to worship, and there’s a long list of players being lined up to fill the role. Nicolas Anelka, Michael Owen, Carlos Tevez and Obafemi Martins are the main names in the frame, but who do the Arsenal fans want to see Wenger sign? From the Gooners I’ve spoken to in the past couple of days all of the aforementioned strikers have their supporters and doubters, but there doesn’t appear to be a clear favourite amongst them.

Within hours of Henry’s exit the press was reporting that Arsene Wenger wanted to be reunited with his first real success story, Nicolas Anelka. Wenger signed the French international striker from Paris St-Germain in 1996 for just £500,000 and it turned out to be one of the buys of the century. His blinding pace and clinical finishing made him one of the Premiership’s most feared strikers and helped the Gunners to the league and cup double in 1997/98. However Real Madrid came calling and the young Frenchman left for a staggering £23 million. But his dream move to the Bernabeu soon turned into a nightmare and 12 months later he was being packed off back to Paris St Germain for £20 million. Spells at Liverpool (on loan), Manchester City, Fenerbahce and Bolton Wanderers have followed but Anelka has failed to recapture the blistering form he showed at Arsenal. But considering the way he left the club, and failed to live up to his early promise, would he be made welcome at the Emirates?

Christina Ruse, 65, is a huge fan of Anelka’s, but questions his commitment and believes there may actually be a better alternative out there.

“I'd be happy to see Anelka back – he has never played better than with Wenger managing him – and I'm sure he knows it. He's at a prime age. Also, he'd probably slip into Wenger training methods, team talks, etc more easily than a new incomer. But would he have the respect of his team-mates? And we surely have reservations about Anelka's own management to commit fully to us. Better for me would be Babel – young and highly talented (he impressed me hugely at the under-21 tournament and at one point said he was an admirer of Arsenal) and could be a perfect partner for the senior Van Persie. I like his sudden darting runs, his shots from difficult areas, his vision to spot the chance of an intelligent pass. But since Babel seems to be cooling, it seems Anelka is probable.”

And Christina’s concerns about the French forward, commonly referred to as “Le Sulk”, are backed by fellow Arsenal fan Damien Silver, 24, from Watford.

“I like Nicolas Anelka. He has a lot of qualities similar to Henry, but the fact is that he isn’t Henry, and isn’t any better that Van Persie or Adebayor, and to be honest I can’t see him setting the Emirates alight. He is a quality player but does he deserve a second chance?”

So doubts remain over Anelka, but what about Newcastle and England international Michael Owen? Wenger has long been an admirer of the former Liverpool and Real Madrid man and if it’s goals you’re after, he’s your man. And with a reported £9 million buyout clause in his contract it would be a great bit of business. The only downside of such a move though is his recent injury record. Is he still as sharp and deadly in front of goal and would he be fit for a whole season? Christina, who has been an Arsenal fan since 1949, likes Owen but thinks he would be a bit of a gamble.

“I like the idea of Owen since for me the successful English premier teams have good English players and we've suffered from the lack of that. However, Owen is not reliable for goals at club level and has always come across to me as driven by 'northern' football after passion for his England shirt. I have a sneaking suspicion that his fitness will become an increasing problem. There's a strong possibility that Adebayor would actually play more games than Owen.”

Owen isn’t the only England international being looked at by Wenger, according to reports. Arsenal fan and current Spurs striker Jermain Defoe is apparently also in the frame. Following Darren Bent’s £16.5 million move to White Hart Lane there’s a feeling that one of Berbatov, Keane and Defoe will be sold, with the latter the most obvious choice. Quick, nimble and with an eye for goal, Defoe has been unfortunate not to hold down a starting place under Martin Jol. But Damien, whose favourite Arsenal player of all time is Ray Parlour, said that if he had to choose between Michael Owen and Jermain Defoe there would only be one winner.

“Although I admire Michael Owen, I would have to go with Defoe, simply because he reminds me of Ian Wright in his movement and the way he plays. I think he is a scorer of great goals but not a great goalscorer, but if there is one man that can change that then good old Mr Wenger will. I think Arsenal need a good old-fashioned English striker, a fox in the box, and I feel Defoe is still young enough to develop into one of the true English greats. Also Spurs will be fuming if he comes to us so all the more reason!”

One of the Premiership’s most exciting and controversial characters last season was West Ham’s Argentinean ace Carlos Tevez, and he has reportedly been quoted as saying that he wants to stay in the Premiership and is interested in joining Arsenal. He’s quick, powerful, skilful and exciting, all of which are qualities that would go some way in helping Arsenal fans get over the loss of Henry. Wayne Redpath, 39, whose favourite current player is Robin Van Persie, is not convinced about the other candidates, but would love to see Tevez in an Arsenal shirt.

“I think it would be a backward step if we took Anelka back and Michael Owen would be a gamble due to his history of injuries. My choice would be Carlos Tevez. He would fit into the team very nicely with Van Persie and Adebayor with quick feet deadly on free kicks would be great.”

The young striker, who has turned down a move to Inter Milan, also gets the support of Damien Silver.

“Carlos Tevez is not just a pacy, skilful player but is determined and never gives up, but I don’t think he will get 25 goals a season. I hope he proves me wrong though because I would love to see him at Arsenal.”

Meanwhile, Dave Prea, 37, from the Seychelles, would settle for either Tevez or Obafemi Martins.

“As an Arsenal fan I would like Mr Wenger to sign Carlos Tevez or Obafemi Martins. Both men are small but quick players with good football skills that can dribble and take on players in difficult situations. Both would fit in with Arsenal’s style of play.”

However, not everybody is in favour of Tevez.

“I don't want Tevez because he has no understanding of passion for a particular English club – he's a talented journeyman professional,” said Christina Ruse, who is more concerned about Wenger staying on at the Arsenal than anything else.

But while Arsene Wenger may have £16 million or more to spend on a replacement for Henry, some fans believe that the next hero could already be at the Emirates.

Mark Brindle, from the South East Essex Gunners supporters club, thinks Robin Van Persie “can be the man” this season while Tony Attwood, 59, who has reason to believe that Gilles Grimandi holds the key to Wenger’s future and David Dein’s return, would like to see Wenger repeat his winning formula of picking up a young unknown player and turning them into household names.

“When Henry came to Arsenal he was fairly much unknown – just another flop on the Italian scene. When he played his opening games he was hopeless – he couldn't even hit the clock, let alone score. We had no idea what he was doing wandering around on the left wing, tripping over the winger – we thought he was trying to get out of Dennis' way.

“What we want is another one of these – someone who explodes without anyone knowing what is coming. Someone we get for cheap and sell on after seven years at a load more, just as the injuries set in.

“It is possible that we have this someone in Walcott – but if not it is going to be someone playing in Italy, Spain or France who isn't highly rated, and when Wenger brings him it, it will hardly be noticed.”

Arsene Wenger has a number of top class options available to him and everybody has an opinion on who he should sign, but who would you like to see at Arsenal? We would love to hear your views.

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