Tough Shit

A lot of how I feel about the whole Thierry Henry handball incident was summed up by Roy Keane’s brilliant presser.

This has been a British media witch hunt. They waited for eight long years to wipe the Frenchman’s arrogant smirk off his face. When the moment arrived, they did not fail in aiming their vitriol squarely at him. Ignoring the fact that nearly every professional involved has refused to call Henry a cheat, there have been pundits left and right spouting such words only to aggrandize their own profile.

You have Tony Cascarino, an actual cheat who flip-flopped country identification like TV channels, calling Henry all sorts of names. You have James Lawton, a man who can write eloquently about Arsenal at times, writing about Henry’s legacy of cheating (mainly in the World Cup when he was fouled by Puyol). You have Eric Cantona saying that he would have punched Henry in the face had he sat down next to him after the match.

What good does all of this do? Why do we as a society decide to drag a man down to the gutter for something that can be explained as a purely instinctual action?

Yes, what Henry did was illegal and against the rules, but calling him a cheat implies something else. It means premeditation, and certainly that act was not premeditated. Robbie Keane was rightly called for three or four handballs in the game. So, let me get this straight, Robbie Keane is not a cheat because he was correctly judged for the handballs, while Henry is a cheat just because he wasn’t caught?

British people bleat on and on about how Ireland were robbed. Well, as it stood, it would have headed to penalties. In my eyes, the best player on the pitch that night was Hugo Lloris. In a foreign country, Ireland would have relied on players like Paul McShane to take a crucial penalty kick (and that choker David Trezeguet was nowhere to be found for the French). That’s far from slam dunk qualification. No, the Irish were robbed of the opportunity to play for penalties. They still had fifteen minutes to take matters into their own hands.

Henry will get a smidgeon of goodwill for suggesting a replay would be fair. But this won’t be enough for diehard haters of Arsenal like Myles Palmer, a man whose reactions were so furious that he called Thierry Henry scum of the earth. Let me say this, footballers and athletes are hardly scum of the earth. They’re merely entertainers. They do not dictate anything politically, at least not of their own cognizance. To put Thierry Henry in the class of Dick Cheney is not only wrong, it’s foolish and misguided. It says more about Myles’s hatred of our club and Henry then it does about the actual state of affairs.

Which brings me to the Arsenal angle of all this, because after all, this is an Arsenal blog. I feel the furore of the British media is partially generated by Henry’s affiliation with Arsenal. As we all know, Thierry Henry is one of the best players to have ever played for Arsenal. His nonchalant brilliance upset many people, oftentimes praising his sublime skill while carrying a deep loathing for him buried inside. When the handball happened, John Cross of the Mirror tweeted this:

“Gutted. Heroes ain’t supposed to do that. Ruins it for me. Next time Arsenal are cheated, no one can complain. This was a big game.”

To which I ask, what the fuck does these events have to do with Arsenal? Absolutely nothing.

Which leads to Gooners who went out of their way to talk about how they’ve disowned Henry after the act of “blatant cheating.” If you’re an Irish Gooner, you may have some right to feel this way. If you’re not, then shame on you.

His legacy should not be tainted by that one event, just like Robert Pires’s actions against Portsmouth shouldn’t taint our Invincibles achievement. These are the same Gooners who want to see us win at all costs, whether it’s buying players for unreasonable sums of money or sacrificing our thrilling style to pick up points doing donkey work instead. That’s frankly the attitude of a Manchester United or Chelsea fan.

Some might suggest that it was karmic justice that our streak ended with Wayne Rooney doing the same thing against us that Pires did to Portsmouth. And perhaps it’s karmic justice that Ireland went out in that manner after receiving a bogus penalty decision against Georgia, a decision that could have cost Bulgaria a chance to be in the playoffs instead of Ireland.

So, that’s just how things are. In football, things even out. Or they don’t. It’s football. Spare me the lessons in morality; I’ve been on both sides of the situation. I’ve had my heart crushed, and I’ve felt lucky that things went our way. Being “moral” about things like this just gets you one thing in life, a potential pie in your face when you’re sheepishly celebrating something you claim to be against.

Anyway, we have a proper match tomorrow against Sunderland. This is obviously a trap game. We’re playing at the Stadium of Light, two of our defenders played a full 120 minutes against Ireland, and we’ve suffered the loss of Robin van Persie and Kieran Gibbs.

A couple of things work in our favor. They have both Kenwyne Jones and Lee Cattermole out tomorrow. Jones provides them with a physical outlet that they’ll lack because Darren Bent is hardly physical and Frazier Campbell is just a novice. Cattermole brilliant closed down Fabregas last year when he played for Wigan, so that’s another bonus.

Sunderland have played well against some good teams this year. They should have beaten Manchester United, and they played well enough to win against Liverpool even without the beach ball. In a way, they already have their result against two of the “Big Four” teams. That may be to our benefit, but they’ll still be going for the three points.

Meanwhile, we’ll see how our front line works out. We’re so fluid that it’s not necessarily to think of a replacement for van Persie strictly in terms of a one player for one player way. What’ll be important is the link up play and the movement that must be interchanged between Arshavin and whoever plays for van Persie.

This will be an important test. Win here and we go into the Chelsea match with some momentum. Three points would be most welcome.

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