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Conor Henderson hungry for more action

IRELAND U-21 star Conor Henderson has admitted his future may be away from Arsenal following a frustrating start to the campaign.

The playmaker, who is a vital part of Noel King's team which must beat Hungary this evening in Kecskemet to resurrect their European Championships qualifying hopes, broke into the Gunners first-team last year at the age of just 19.

However, a cruciate ligament injury sustained in a pre-season game against Cologne 14 months ago stalled that ascent as it sidelined him for almost the entire campaign.

Arsenal's youth chief Liam Brady, who Henderson has been likened to for his cultured left-foot, shared the player's view that a loan move this season would be of most benefit.

Despite a temporary switch to the Championship being lined up before last week's deadline, Arsene Wenger vetoed the move at the 11th hour.

"The manager blocked the loan because he said he wants me around the first team," said Henderson. "This is the final season of my contract and I need to be playing. It's a good sign for the future that the manager is protecting me, but my priority is to progress my career.

"I just hope that a move is arranged after I come back from international duty when the loan window re-opens.

"I've been at Arsenal since I was a kid but all I've played so far this season is reserve games in the new U-21 league.

"That's not enough at this stage of my career. The plan is to come back from a loan spell challenging for a first-team spot. If I have to leave on a permanent basis at the end of the season, so be it."

Only victory tonight will maintain Ireland's ambitions of securing a first-ever UEFA qualification heading into Monday's concluding qualifier in Italy, which is also a must-win if they hope to leapfrog Turkey into second spot and seal a play-off shot.

Henderson will earn his second competitive cap in the midfield of King's side, though they are without striker James Collins. Swindon Town boss Paolo Di Canio was keen for the frontman, who scored a hat-trick in last week's 4-3 League Cup victory at Stoke City, to stick around the club for this weekend's League One tie against Leyton Orient.

That predicament has forced him to miss both international fixtures.

IRELAND U-21 (probable) -- McLoughlin (MK Dons); Egan (Sunderland), Kiernan (Wigan Athletic), Duffy (Everton), Cunningham (Bristol City); Towell (Unattached), O'Kane (Bournemouth), Henderson (Arsenal); Brady (Manchester United), Barton (Coventry City), White (Leeds United).

Irish Independent