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28.03.2010 11:04

Henry: "I am ready but it will be strange"

Sandra Sarmiento

Thierry Henry is preparing for the one game that he did not want to have to play in as FC Barcelona meet Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League quarter final next week in London.

The former Gunners star spoke to Barça TV and www.fcbarcelona.cat, in his first interview since the draw was made and revealed his thoughts on the tantalising encounter and reflected on his time in London.

How are you feeling before going back to London?
“I am very emotional, but also keeping calm. It will be a strange game for me. Before the draw I said that I did not want to meet Arsenal. That was my wish. But now it is what we have been given and we will have to be at our best.”

How was the draw itself for you?
“I did not see it. I did that with Arsenal and in Monaco. My team-mates all told me about it and I received a load of messages from my friends. It was the one team I did not want for reasons that everyone knows, but that is what happened.”

What does it mean to you to return to the club where you spent so many years?
2010-03-25_ENTRENO_42.JPG“It is very special. To return home is strange and even more so in the quarter finals of the Champions League. It will be different because I spent seven years at Highbury and only one at The Emirates. But to see the people and the fans and to see those who work at the club again will be very strange.”

Although you did not want to, did you know that one day you could play against Arsenal?
“This is the first time that I have spoken since the draw. I did an interview two months ago and they asked me about the possibility of being drawn against Arsenal. I, obviously, said that I did not want to do that and think that everyone understood. But sometimes they want to invent things. This is the first time I have spoken since the actual draw.”

Are you ready to see your former supporters again?
“I spent eight years at Arsenal. It would be like if Xavi left Barça and then returned one day. You prepare yourself, but it is strange. Even so, if I play I will give everything like I always have done.”

Who have you not seen for some time and are looking forward to meeting again?
“I think everyone. Since I joined Barcelona I have only been back to Arsenal on one occasion. It was when they played Blackburn three or four months ago. It will be only the second time. I do not know how people will react.”

Then you were in the stands and now you will be on the pitch. The reaction will be different.
“I know full well that we are going to play in the Champions League, this is the quarter finals and I know that for the Barça fans it is really important that we reach the final and, if we can, to win it. For Barça’s supporters it is a dream to go to Madrid and for me it is odd to be facing Arsenal en route to that. But that is how football is.”

In a poll on Arsenal’s official club website you were voted the best player in the Gunners’ history. How does that feel?
2010-03-25_ENTRENO_45.JPG“When you play in a team your aim is to give everything and after the people can look back and judge. I have a special relationship with Arsenal fans. It is like a trophy. A trophy of affection.”

What are Arsenal fans like? It is claimed they are not very passionate.
“They are great. Incredible. They always support you and help the team. At Highbury the atmosphere was always fantastic, really incredible.”

The Emirates is a bigger stadium than Highbury and maybe the pressure on you will be as intense.
“There will definitely be pressure. They are at home. On Wednesday they are playing against the reigning European champions in the Champions League quarter finals and they will go all out. Like we will. But it is true that at Highbury the noise from the fans was more noticeable.”

What is your best memory of your eight years at Arsenal?
“All of it, every single moment. The worst as well. It is a very friendly club. But if I had to choose one moment over all others it was winning the league without losing a single match. In football now, playing against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool … there are so many difficult games away from home where anyone can beat you. It is almost impossible and we did it. That will always remain in the record books.”

And the worst memory?
“Losing the Champions League final against Barça. That was very hard.”

Do you still follow Arsenal as a fan?
2010-03-25_ENTRENO_43.JPG“Yes, yes. I am now an Arsenal supporter. I will always be one. When Arsenal play and I can see the game you can be sure to find me in front of a television.”

There are not many players left from the Champions League final at Arsenal. Now they have a younger and bolder team.
“They are young, but they have played together for a long time. Cesc has spent six or seven years playing for Arsenal, Clichy has been there a number of years, Song also, Denilson the same, Van Persie, Arshavin, Nasri … It is true, they are young, but they are also very competitive.”

What has Arséne Wenger meant to you in your career?
“I started with him. He gave me my debut at 17 and later we came together again in London. He had great faith in me. I have a very special relationship with him. He has done so much for me. Without him I do not know what would have happened.”

And what has Wenger done for Arsenal?
“He changed the way the team played. He has changed the lives of the fans. Before they would go along thinking Arsenal could win, now they know they can. Now Arsenal and Barça are the two teams that try to play football and that says it all for me. He has changed the way that the team plays and won trophies. For me, he will always be the best manager in the history of the club.”

You were the Arsenal captain before leaving and now it is Cesc. Has it surprised you that someone so young is the captain?
“If you talk about Arsenal then you have to talk about Cesc. What he has done does not surprise me. I played with him and I know what he can do. The fans at Barça also know that. He is very intelligent and has played at a high level for so long.”

Are Barça the favourites to win the tie?
“Whenever the reigning champions play people claim that they are the favourites. But the Champions League is different. Look at Lyon against Madrid or CSKA against Sevilla. You would not have said that they were the favourites beforehand. It will be very difficult.”

Txiki Begiristain said recently that whichever team runs the least after the ball will win the tie. Do you agree?
“We always want the ball and Arsenal feel the same. It is very difficult to predict what will happen. In the Champions League if you are not at your best, if only for five minutes, then the opposition can finish you off. There is 90 minutes in London and another 90 minutes in Camp Nou. In Europe you cannot drop off at all.”

If Messi is in the same form as he is now then maybe it will be easier?
“It is better when Leo is like he is now. I have played alongside some great players, but Leo is very special.”

For a star like you what does playing alongside him mean?
2010-03-21_SEGUNDO_GOL_MESSI_16.JPG“What Leo can do is difficult to find in any other player. The other day I had my head in my hands because I did not know how he does such things. I received a load of messages all asking me if Leo is human. At times I ask myself that. What he does is not normal. We just have to enjoy it all.”

How are you on a personal level?
“Very well. After playing for France against Spain my rhythm dropped. I have trained well and now I feel a lot better. I think that was seen recently against Valencia or against Stuttgart. I am much better now.”

Do you think you can help the team in the run-in?
“It is good to have the whole squad available. To see Bojan, Ibra and Pedro scoring is great, with Pedro in particular having played well all season. It is important that we are all fit. After that the coach must choose and if he asks you to play you have to be at your best. We cannot let any points slip because Madrid will win a lot of games.”
Images: Miguel Ruiz - FCB.
Images: Miguel Ruiz - FCB.

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Around 3,000 Barça fans will be in London. What are you favourite places in the city?
“They cannot go to my house (smiles). Nor Highbury. You cannot choose only a few places in London. I don’t know. I go to Selfridges a lot to shop. There are also a lot of restaurants, like Princess Garden, Villa Bianca. We would need to do another interview because London is very big and there are so many places to visit.”

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