Thierry Henry downplays Arsenal, Red Bulls friendly

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

HARRISON, N.J. – Arsenal are set to participate in their first ever professional friendly in the New York area. Thierry Henry is set to lead the New York Red Bulls against the club of his legend. It’s the final year of Henry’s contract with New York, and every indication seems to point to this being his final year as a professional.

Clearly, there should be a lot of meaning to this match, not only to the fans, but to Henry himself.

Well, think again.

Asked about the emotional aspect of the encounter, Henry didn’t skip a beat. “I [felt emotional] when I had to play at the Emirates. This is different,” he said. “It’s going to be home here and a lot of their fans are going to come to watch the game, I know that. But like I said to you, I go there every year to train so I’ve had the opportunity to see those guys. It wasn’t the same like in 2011 when we went for the Emirates Cup, if I remember well, when I [had not] seen them for awhile, so the emotion was bigger back in London. It was different.”

Henry did offer that it would be “weird” to face his former club, but said the match was more for fans and his teammates than himself. “Wearing the shirt was a privilege for me. Wearing the Arsenal shirt was the most important thing for me,” he said, adding however that his mind “is on Salt Lake.”

“All I know is Saturday, we will not get three points if we win.”

It’s a sentiment held by head coach Mike Petke, who echoed his star striker’s words.

“It’s a nice thing but, at the end of the day, we’re judged by our results in the league,” he said. “Obviously, it’s exciting for the fans, it’s good to test yourself against great competition, like Arsenal will be, to play against a team you’ve never played against, to play a different style, and a different league. At the end of the day, it’s a glamor thing — it really is.”

Adding to the levity of the encounter, Henry will only expect to play about 60 minutes to preserve him for their Wednesday fixture in Utah.

While Petke said there was no chance Henry plays a half for both clubs, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger hopes that isn’t the case.

“Well I came here with only one striker because I hope he could play for us maybe. I haven’t given up, maybe he can play one half for us,” he said.

Wenger also took on a more reverent tone to the upcoming encounter.

“[Henry] had all the top qualities as a football player when he started at 17-years-old at Monaco, now he’s been playing 17 years at the top level, not many players last at the top level of competition. He has the physique, he has the technical qualities and he’s a very bright guy. So that means they learn from the competition and that’s what he did. He analyzes very quickly, and has a good combination between being focused and relaxed. That’s the most important quality at the top level, is that high level of focus and being relaxed as well. The right mixture and he has that.”

Whatever the approach is by either side, one thing is clear; Henry hopes expects to see Arsenal fans in attendance, but hopes Red Bull supporters show up as well.

“Totally [I agree], it is important to get a team like Arsenal here, like [Manchester] United last night [vs. LA Galaxy], or [Manchester] City against Kansas City,” Henry said. “I go back to what Mike [Petke] said, ‘how do you bring people who are coming on Saturday back to the New England game?’.

“Hopefully the stadium will be full, and not having a go, but it would be a first for us right? It would be unbelievable if people come and support us too — not only Arsenal.”