London: Arsene Wenger has rejected the possibility of Thierry Henry returning to Arsenal for a second loan spell as he criticised his players for a lack of desire and mental sharpness in their 1-1 draw at Southampton on Tuesday.
The Arsenal manager had said that he was considering whether to re-sign Henry from the New York Red Bulls and the striker has been training at the club where he made his name as the record goalscorer. But the signs in recent days had been that another emotional return was unlikely.
Henry had taken a holiday and returned well short of match fitness and, with the window of opportunity short before the restart of Major League Soccer in March, it had seemed as though Arsenal would have to complete the deal at the very beginning of January.
They did not do so and Wenger said the matter was now closed. “I think Thierry goes away somewhere,” he said. “He is not ready. He has just come back from holiday so at the moment we are not on that case.”
Wenger was more concerned at the mentality of his team on the south coast, after a result that ended the encouraging sequence of four consecutive Premier League wins. Arsenal had scored seven against Newcastle and five at Reading during the run while, in September, they had put six past Southampton at home.
He stopped short of agreeing that complacency had been a problem at St Mary’s Stadium, but only just. Arsenal’s Boxing Day fixture at home to West Ham United had been postponed, so the issues were more “mental than physical”, according to Wenger.
“It’s nothing to do with fatigue,” Wenger said. “I think maybe before, we scored seven against Newcastle and we scored five at Reading ... we [thought we would] score again today. We had to play a game of that magnitude today against a Southampton team that was really highly determined. I felt we lacked purpose in our game. It was more mental than physical. What was lacking mentally? The sharpness. We were not very good offensively. We didn’t create enough chances. I felt that we lacked sharpness and desire.”
Arsenal forced the Southampton goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, into only one regulation save, in the 70th minute, and their first-half equaliser was a fortunate own goal from Guly do Prado.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing because we didn’t create a lot today, after having scored five at Reading and seven against Newcastle,” Wenger said. “When you sum it up today ... the goal chances we created, there is not a lot to consider. Our game lacked purpose, lacked penetration, lacked speed. All the qualities we have usually, we didn’t see.
“It is frustrating. It’s difficult to single anybody out individually. I just feel overall nobody was put in good conditions to express something decent offensively. Considering our performance, I don’t think we deserved more today. It’s two points lost if you look at the target we had over Christmas.”
— Guardian News and Media Ltd