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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Job done in Europe, Andy Roxburgh's 23 year Gunners grudge

Could this game scupper The King's return this season?

All credit to the players and Manager for getting through in the Champions League last night. After losing at home to Schalke our progress was very much in doubt. The boys then put in a very good first-half in Germany the other week and last night did a professional job to get over the line. I've not seen the first-half of the game but I gather I didn't miss very much. In the second-half I thought Arsenal played some nice stuff. Occasionally the final ball was lacking, but Wilshere was combining well with Arteta after half-time, while Podolski looks increasingly comfortable in this team.
The two goals were excellent. It was really nice to see a ball played in to the box with the express purpose of our big centre-forward getting on the end of it. Giroud, who has been outstanding of late, provided a lovely knock-down, and Jack Wilshere put the ball away in great style. It could easily have been Marwood crossing for Alan Smith, and then Michael Thomas arriving late to finish it off. Proper football from Arsenal, rather than the usual aimless passing. The second goal was even better with Podolski smashing in a sumptuous volley after a one-two with Giroud. The chipped ball from Giroud was inch-perfect, and the goalkeeper had no chance. George Graham scored a very similar goal in the 1970-71 Double season - you can see it 1'02" in this link .
I know a number of people will decry the idea of 13 straight years qualification for the last 16 as subscribing to Arsenal "spin" but when you consider how other teams have failed to get through their groups in recent years then it is a laudable achievement. Admittedly the fact that we have only one Final and one other semi-final in that period indicates we have summarily failed overall in Europe, but maybe we just need some of the luck Chelsea had last season. Either way, it means we have at least one two-legged tie to look forward to in Spring.

I wasn't surprised yesterday to see Arsene Wenger talking about the possibility (likelihood?) of Thierry Henry returning for another spell in January. I am all in favour of The King coming back again, just so long as he isn't the only arrival. Personally I would like to see him signed on a permanent basis, with some kind of coaching role included. It would surprise me if Henry didn't pull on the red and white again in the New Year, but it may not be quite as simple as it should be.
Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland Manager, now has some involvement at New York Red Bulls. It seems from his comments overnight that he doesn't want Thierry to come and play for Arsenal. Apparently the idea of Henry spending time playing competitively at the top level is not the sort of preparation Roxburgh wants ahead of the next Sunday League season in America. Personally I think anyone involved in MLS would do well not to upset their one remaining World star. With David Beckham on his way there is only Henry making MLS seem vaguely serious as a football competition. Anyone who has watched it on ESPN (and I saw a lot of New York's games this season) will know that the standard is poor overall and they rely on the big names, all of them way past their best, to bring in the crowds.
Roxburgh, however, has a personal axe to grind with Arsenal, and I suspect his comments on Henry are more to do with a 23 year old grudge than the interests of New York or MLS. But where does his ill-feeling come from? Read on and I'll tell you.
Back on Valentine's Day 1989 Arsenal played France at Highbury. With English clubs banned from Europe it was a game of some attraction for Gooners - the chance to see continental opposition in the form of the French national team saw a decent crowd turn up. Arsenal won the game 2-0 thanks to goals from Alan Smith and Martin Hayes. All well and good, and a fine evening for Arsenal. Except that the playing of the fixture infuriated Andy Roxburgh. France were due to play Scotland shortly after in a qualifier for Italia '90, and the game at Highbury was used as a "warm-up" against some British opposition. Roxburgh roundly criticised Arsenal and George Graham for giving France "practise" before they played Scotland. At the time it was quite the scandal, as I recall. Roxburgh was making an idiot of himself, and I sure he realised that in the end. As it was, Scotland went on to beat France by the same 2-0 scoreline less than a month after, but nobody likes to be made to look stupid. Reading between the lines I think Roxburgh hasn't forgotten.
I still expect Thierry Henry to rejoin Arsenal for January, and I hope it's all sorted out before the transfer window opens so that he is in the squad straight away. There is, though, the fear that Andy Roxburgh's petty squabble from 23 years ago could stop it from happening. Given how it might annoy Henry so much that he quits America for good, I suspect such interference would be a career decision for Roxburgh.

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