Wenger: Henry will sign for Arsenal for 2 months
Updated: December 30, 2011, 10:03
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LONDON(AP) Three weeks after being immortalized in a bronze statue outside Arsenal's stadium, Thierry Henry is on the verge of sealing an emotional return to the Premier League club that made him a global superstar.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said Friday that the former France captain will sign for the team in a two-month loan deal once an insurance agreement is reached with the New York Red Bulls, Henry's club in Major League Soccer.
Wenger is turning to Henry, who scored a club-record 226 goals in eight years at Arsenal between 1999-2007, to fill the gap in his strikeforce left by the impending departure of Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh to the African Cup of Nations next month.
"To cover for two months is ideal,'' Wenger said. "He has the experience and the quality. He knows the club and can help the players on and off the pitch.''
Henry, who has been training with Arsenal during the MLS offseason, established himself as a club legend in his first stint before moving to Spanish giant Barcelona.
On Dec. 9, Henry was moved to tears when Arsenal unveiled statues of himself, former captain Tony Adams and ex-manager Herbert Chapman to celebrate the club's 125th-year anniversary.
Henry's legacy could be enhanced further if he can inspire Wenger's side in a crucial period of matches before he returns to the United States in March.
The Frenchman could feature in seven league games, including a home match against Manchester United on Jan. 22, and the first leg of Arsenal's Champions League last-16 match against AC Milan.
"I know it can only be positive,'' said Wenger, who converted Henry from a skinny winger to a muscly striker after signing him from Italian team Juventus in 1999.
"He has exceptional talent - he is a very intelligent man and has a desire to help the club. But it is difficult to measure how positive an influence he is.''
Henry's debut is likely to come against second-tier side Leeds in the third round of the FA Cup on Jan. 9, although there is an outside chance he could play a part in the league match at Fulham on Monday.
Arsenal fans will not witness the Henry of old, who terrorized English defenses with his pace, touch and power to help Arsenal to two Premier League titles and three FA Cups. He was voted Arsenal's greatest player in a poll on the club's official website in 2008.
Nudged out to the periphery in the last of his three seasons at Barcelona, where he was often shunted out of position to the left wing, Henry has spent the past year in the more relaxed environs of the MLS.
In 1 1/2 seasons at the Red Bulls, he has scored 16 goals in 37 matches but couldn't help the team past Los Angeles Galaxy in the conference semifinals in this year's MLS playoffs. His haul of 14 regular-season goals saw him finish third in the league's scoring charts in 2011.
Wenger is relying on Henry's intelligence to see him through.
"You and I are conscious that he is 34 years old but he has not lost his class or his brain,'' Wenger said. "That will be just enough for us.''
Henry will likely be the understudy to Robin van Persie, who has taken over the Frenchman's mantle as Arsenal's talismanic attacker and scored 16 league goals this season. In 2011, Van Persie has scored 34 times in the league and needs two goals against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday to equal the Premier League record in a calendar year, set by Alan Shearer in 1995.
Arsenal's other option up front is South Korea captain Park Ju-young, who has struggled for first-team chances since his move from Monaco in the offseason. Russia captain Andrey Arshavin, barely used by Wenger this season, and England winger Theo Walcott can also act as makeshift strikers but are more accustomed to playing out wide.
"It's fantastic for them,'' said Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, whose side could come up against Henry if he is still at Arsenal for the north London derby on Feb. 26.
"He is one of the great players in the history of the Premier League. It's important to have people like that around your club and in the dressing room. They're good on the pitch and off it too.''
Renowned for his expertise at bringing youth prospects through to the first team, it won't be the first time Wenger has turned to a former star to help Arsenal on a short-term basis.
In March, former Germany international Jens Lehmann - like Henry, one of Arsenal's "Invincibles'' who helped the team go through the 2003-04 league season unbeaten - was signed to help solve a goalkeeping shortage.
Defender Sol Campbell rejoined the club in January 2010 and made 11 appearances until the end of the season.