Heroic returns mask Wenger error


Even those without a thorough understanding of football could appreciate the emotion that filled The Emirates Stadium on Monday evening, as Thierry Henry stylishly marked his Arsenal return with the decisive goal against Leeds United.

You need only see the statue of Henry outside the Emirates to understand what he means to The Gunners following, after producing eight-years of unrelenting brilliance during his first spell at the club.

Henry spearheaded an Arsenal side like which we've rarely seen on these shores.

Jose Mourinho's Chelsea were built on the foundations of team unity and defensive stubbornness, while the blueprint of Manchester United's success under Sir Alex Ferguson has surrounded a never say die attitude in the twilight of games.

During a 49-game run which stretched 18 months, Arsene Wenger's side combined attacking flair with shrewdness at the back, a formula that has since been unmatched in the Premier League.

There's little doubt that the team Wenger formed is the finest the Premier League has seen in the 20 years since its formation, and upon going the entire 2003/04 season unbeaten, the French boss targeted winning the Champions League in a similarly ruthless manner.

Defeat by Manchester United in October 2004, which halted Arsenal's unbeaten run at 49, sparked a run of form which eventually saw Chelsea finish top of the pile come May.

In less than three years following the defeat at Old Trafford, just three of the famous 'Invicibles' team remained.

Hindsight might be a wonderful thing, but Wenger will be wondering how his trophy haul might have increased by more than just one had he not broken up one of English football's greatest ever sides so quickly.

At the back of Wenger's mind may have been the age of most of his star turns; Freddie Ljungberg left the club aged 30, Dennis Bergkamp 37 and Roberto Pires 34; the trio's powers firmly on the wane.

Wenger need only look at the way Chelsea kept hold of their equivalent of Arsenal's golden era; the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Riccardo Carvalho, into their 30s for evidence that experience can still provide success at the highest level.

Now in 2012, eight years on from that golden era, Wenger has already welcomed back three members of that squad on temporary deals.

Granted, the returning Sol Campbell, Jens Lehmann and now Henry weren't brought back to play leading roles, but at the same time if they're good enough now, why were some of them offloaded while the likes of Emmanuel Eboue, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner were allowed to flounder in their place.

Is bringing back these players Wenger's way of admitting that he made a mistake letting them go in the first place?

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