ARSENE Wenger has warned Arsenal fans not to expect Thierry Henry to extend his stay at the Emirates Stadium to the end of the season, as the Frenchman prepares to make his second debut in Monday night's FA Cup meeting with Leeds United.
Henry has joined the north Londoners on a two-month loan deal to provide cover for Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, who are both due to be on African Cup of Nations duty. The Frenchman is likely to be named on the substitutes’ bench this evening, with Wenger keen for Henry to provide competition on the left-side of his attack.
Henry is not the only Premier League icon making an unlikely return to centre-stage. Paul Scholes’s comeback for Manchester United was confirmed yesterday, while Robbie Keane is likely to arrive at Aston Villa on loan today.
But Wenger insists his talisman will return to his parent club, New York Red Bulls, in March.
“We have promised that we send the player back,” he said. “We have not spoken about that at all but let’s hope we have the problem. If we do, it means he has done well so I hope we will have the problem but at the moment I can just say no, that is not envisaged at all.”
Henry’s possible role might provide an intriguing sub-plot to tonight’s tie, but Wenger has left nobody under any illusions as to where his priorities lie this season.
The Arsenal manager has stressed that finishing in the Premier League’s top four is the priority this season, with Champions League qualification described as “compulsory” and the FA Cup simply as “a bonus”.
That outlook is reflected in Wenger’s decision to rest Robin Van Persie tonight, even though the competition arguably represents Arsenal’s best chance of a trophy.
Van Persie, who has used this break from Premier League matches for a short holiday in Dubai, was also omitted when Arsenal were beaten 1-0 in the Carling Cup quarter-final against Manchester City earlier this season.
The regular emphasis on Arsenal’s league position, ahead of winning the FA or Carling Cup, is a frustration to many fans but Wenger is certain that he is acting in the club’s best interests. “For us, it’s not comparable, the FA Cup and Champions League,” he said.
“The Champions League is compulsory. The FA Cup is something that is for enjoyment. It is a bonus that we want. Champions League, for us, is something that is needed.”
Asked if it was more important to win the FA Cup or finish in the top four, Wenger said: “It is more important — that means you will want me to say it’s not important to win against Leeds. It’s very important to win.
“But our life, at the level we are, with the wages we have, and the aspirations we have, is to play in the Champions League. After that you want to win all the other trophies.”
Wenger acknowledged that the players are desperate to win medals but claimed that competing at the highest level was their first target. “It’s more important what is in front of you,” he said.