December 14, 2001

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Henry to light France's World Cup fire

France can not only count on the best midfield in world soccer but they now possess one of the deadliest strikers in the game, Thierry Henry.

The 24-year-old Henry was France's top scorer when they won the 1998 World Cup and if the Arsenal forward is in anything like his premier league form in South Korea and Japan next year there will be no stopping him.

Henry has chalked up his 21st goal for his north London side with nearly two-thirds of the English season still to play and his French manager is wondering where it will all end.

"There is no limit to how many goals Thierry can score because he is so good, so big in the game now, that he can achieve anything," Arsene Wenger said.

Thierry Henry "He has everything you need for a football player. The question is how far does he want to go? He has everything to be the best of the best."

Henry's electrifying pace, close control and constant movement off the ball make him a difficult target for defenders. He is the creative force behind many goals scored by his team mates.

A former winger whom Wenger has coached into the front-man's role, Henry is not yet the perfect striker. Like other gifted ball players, the Frenchman has a marked weakness in the air and he still misses chances through over-elaboration.


With better Henry finishing last season, the FA Cup final against Liverpool could have been won.

A 2-1 home win over Valencia in the Champions League could easily have been a near-unassailable 3-1 and a place in the semifinals. Instead Arsenal were overhauled by a 1-0 defeat in the second leg.

This season, though, Wenger can have few complaints.

"Thierry is a very difficult type of player for teams to play against," said Wenger, who first noticed the striker during his time at Monaco.

"You can pass the ball to his feet and he will use it very well but he also has tremendous pace and makes good runs which is hard to deal with.

"But he can still improve in the box and in the air and he will admit that himself. He knows there is room for improvement and that is a very positive sign.

"People thought he was only scoring goals because people did not know him but you can see how big he has become and still nobody can stop him."


Henry's progress this season has surprised even the Frenchman himself.

"When I look at the stats -- 15 goals in 14 league matches, six goals in seven Champions League games -- it's frightening," he confided to L'Equipe this week.

"Last year, I scored 22 goals over the whole season, now I'm at 21. I'm really surprised.

It is a far cry from the five-month spell he spent at Juventus in early 1999, charging up and down the left flank in Turin for the benefit of main strikers Alessandro del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi.

The surprise move to Italy had followed Henry's contribution to France's 1998 World Cup triumph, as the team's top scorer with three goals, and it proved not to be a lasting one.

With another young striker from the Paris suburbs, Nicolas Anelka, heading out of the Highbury limelight, Wenger drafted in Henry as a replacement and set about a tactical move from the flank to the centre of the action.

It was a slow process on the field, while off it Henry had to hurdle the language barrier.

"It wasn't easy at the beginning but you have to try," he told the club's website last week. "I wasn't speaking English but I was trying to improve and I'm still doing that."

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