Wenger defends clever Henry

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised Thierry Henry’s speed of thought after the striker stroked home a quick free-kick that helped champions Arsenal to a 2-2 draw against Premiership leaders Chelsea at Highbury on Sunday.

Chelsea’s Portuguese boss, Jose Mourinho, claimed the goal—which came while Blues goalkeeper Peter Cech was lining up his wall—should have been disallowed as referee Graham Poll did not blow his whistle before the strike.

But Wenger was adamant that France international Henry, who opened the scoring after just 73 seconds with a spectacular volley, had broken no rules.

“Everyone has an opinion, but the only one that counts is the opinion of the referee,” the Gunners boss insisted after a draw kept third-placed Arsenal five points behind their London rivals.

“It looked to me like the referee had a conversation with Thierry and asked him if he wanted a wall or not and Thierry said no.

“My understanding is that the referee has to ask the free-kick taker if he wants the wall lined up or not—if he says no, he can take the free-kick at any moment,” the Frenchman also told reporters.

Wenger said Arsenal had been the victims of the rule, which allows the referee to use his discretion over whether a free-kick can be taken before the whistle is blown, against Leeds.

He also said it was not the first time Henry had succeeded with a quick free-kick.

“It happened to us at Leeds and Henry scored a goal like that at Aston Villa. I don’t agree with the rule, but it is the rule. I don’t agree with it because it is difficult to defend unless you cheat a bit and have defenders over the ball.

“I feel it was an intelligent exploitation of the rule, but the ‘keeper has to adapt to it as well.”

Cech was next to his left-hand post when Henry whipped in his free-kick inside the unguarded opposite upright to put the home side 2-1 up in the 29th minute.

“The ‘keeper knows the rule and I do not know why the ‘keeper was near the post to line up the wall if he knows the rule is like it is,” Wenger said.

The Arsenal chief was pleased with the performance of his young side, which included the inexperienced Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini in midfield.

“If you looked at the age of the team, today they did extremely well.
The longer the game lasted, the more it looked like only we would win the game.”

Mourinho said he was “more than unhappy” with Henry’s free-kick, claiming it flew in the face of advice Chelsea had received from a “top referee”.

“I do not need to know what the referee said to Eidur Gudjohnsen [who was near Henry at the time] because I know the rules of the game.

“There are the same rules all over the world. First division, second division, China, Japan, Mexico, England, it doesn’t matter where we are.

“We had a top referee coming to our training ground in Harlington [west London]. One of the things he explained was wall, distance and whistle, and it was all clear.”

Arsenal conceded both Chelsea’s goals from set-pieces, with John Terry heading home a 17th-minute Arjen Robben corner to equalise after Henry’s early strike and Gudjohnsen levelling a second time following Frank Lampard’s free-kick.

“The players lacked a little bit of maturity at set-pieces,” added Wenger. “But the team can be proud of their performance they have shown great potential.

“They are disappointed as they are winners and we lost an opportunity to get back to within two points of Chelsea.”—Sapa-AFP

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