Kolkata: Thierry Henry highlighted Alexis Sanchez's shift from a wide player to centre forward as key to Arsenal's strong start in the Premier League this season, and backed Manchester United duo Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba to battle their way out of their respective struggles, while speaking at an event organised by Puma in Kolkata.
Arsenal are yet to lose a game since the opening day defeat to Liverpool at home and have won six out of their seven games since. Sanchez has been instrumental in the Gunners' resurgence, scoring four goals and providing four assists in the Premier League. As a result, Arsenal currently sit comfortably in second place, just behind Manchester City on goal difference.
The North London side were reportedly pursuing Leicester City's Jamie Vardy and Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette during the summer transfer window, but Arsene Wenger opted to put his faith in Sanchez to play in the centre forward position instead. The move has worked wonders for the Gunners, who have created more than ten chances per game in the Premier League this season, according to Squawka.
Henry felt Arsenal's growing attacking threat was down to the Chilean's movement upfront, which in turn has seen the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott become more effective for Wenger's side.
"When you have a guy playing like that as a No 9, the way he puts pressure, the way he moves, his vision for the ball, it creates a lot of goals for Ozil. Mesut is scoring a lot of goals because of the movement of Alexis Sanchez, he can now go and make that run as a No 10 because the striker is moving. Theo is also scoring a lot of goals because of that as there’s a natural movement that they are creating," Henry told Firstpost at a round table organised by Puma in Kolkata.
"I feel the reason why Arsenal is doing so well this season is because Alexis Sanchez is playing up there and making all that movement and creating space for others," he added.
Henry, who was part of two Premier League-winning Arsenal teams, including the one that went unbeaten in 2004, recalled how Arsenal during his days too relied on movement of forwards to create chances to score.
"People always talk about playing with a false nine. At Arsenal, sometimes we never played with a nine. I was on the wings and Denis Bergkamp was dropping. But the movements that we were creating, we always had someone in the middle. It didn’t matter who that was or at what time," Henry said.
Sanchez averages 0.7 goals playing as a center forward in his club career so far and has drawn comparisons with Henry, who too started out as a winger before being employed upfront by Wenger. But the 39-year-old played down the comparison citing difference in eras.
"I don’t like to compare players. Every player is up there on their own game. The game has evolved. But personally, I’ve always said that Sanchez could be an option to play as center forward," said the former French player.
The Frenchman also revealed how the change in his playing position was a mere alteration on the pitch and it was always the need for goals that drove him. "One thing that I know that there was no transition. There was just the need to score. I started as a striker when I was young. When Arsene left Monaco, they put me on the wings. I went to World Cups playing as a winger, then when I arrived in Arsenal, I played as a striker and then when I went to Barcelona, I played as a winger again," Henry said.
"You need to be versatile and know how to play in different positions as it helps you to play in different system and under different managers," he added.
Another striker who has done well in different positions throughout his career is Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. But he is currently suffering what is possibly the worst period of his career. The Englishman has fallen out of favour with manager Jose Mourinho and has looked like a shadow of his former self. Talking about the challenges a striker faces after the age of thirty and how one prepares for it mentally, Henry suggested that it was just a phase which every top player has to deal with in his career.
"This type of situation happens to everybody. I’ve played one of the greats like Denis Bergkamp, who at one point wasn’t playing as much at Arsenal. But he found a way to get time, more minutes and finally a new position," the 39-year-old recalled.
"That’s what Wayne Rooney is going through and with the quality that he has got, he will do it. He has been a great player in the league and I’m sure he will find a solution," he added.
Rooney's teammate Paul Pogba, who was signed by the club for a record fee of £89.3 million from Juventus, has endured a tough return to Old Trafford. The Frenchman's performances have failed to live up to the brilliance that he displayed with his former club in Italy and he has received considerable stick from the United faithful.
However, his compatriot Henry has come out in his defense and called for fans to give the 23-year-old some time to hit his full stride in the Premier League. He also felt that Mourinho was still unsure of his best system, making it a bit more difficult for Pogba to fire on all cylinders.
"I think Mourinho is still looking for his best eleven, his best system. Pogba too has just arrived and is trying to learn about his teammates. It's not easy," Henry said.
"When you talk about him you’re talking about a quality footballer. When I arrived in the Premier League, I didn’t play well in the beginning. Lots of player don’t play well in the beginning. It’s a process. Now fans don’t give players time to adapt. I think he just needs to adapt and he will deliver," Henry signed off, reiterating his faith in his compatriot.
Published Date: Oct 28, 2016 09:58 am | Updated Date: Oct 28, 2016 11:29 am