Thierry Henry set to rejoin Arsenal
LONDON -- Three weeks after being immortalized in a bronze statue outside Arsenal's stadium, Thierry Henry was close to 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 with 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 from 1999 to 2007, to fill the gap left by the impending departures 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 star in his first stint at the London club before moving to Spanish giant Barcelona.
His legacy could be enhanced further if he can inspire Wenger's side in a crucial period of matches, including seven league games 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 muscled 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 Jan. 9 against second-tier side Leeds in the third round of the FA Cup, although there is an outside chance he could play a part in the league match at Fulham on Monday.
What is for sure is Arsenal fans will not witness the Henry of old, when he terrorized English defenses with his pace, touch and power to help Arsenal to two Premier League titles and three FA Cups.
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.
Instead, 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 likely will be the understudy to Robin van Persie, who needs two goals against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday to equal the Premier League record in a calendar year (36 goals), 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 also can act as makeshift strikers but are more accustomed to playing out wide.
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, 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.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press