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Wenger: New Year, New Henry
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Arsene Wenger insists Thierry Henry will provide the spark for a successful 2007 after the Arsenal captain returned from injury to inspire his side's 4-0 rout of Charlton.

Henry had been sidelined for five weeks with sciatica but he looked reinvigorated after that enforced break as he scored one and set up two more at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday to help Arsenal into fourth place and a coveted Champions League qualifying spot.

Wenger is convinced the striker has finally recovered not just from his injury but also the mental exhaustion brought on by playing for France in the World Cup.

The Gunners boss believes the draining experience of helping his country get to the final in July, only to be beaten on penalties by Italy, took its toll on Henry.

But he sees signs that his star striker has shaken off the cobwebs and is ready to lead Arsenal's challenge for the Champions League and the FA and League Cups.

"If you look across Europe, most of the players who played until the end of the World Cup have struggled," Wenger said.

"But he is in a good frame of mind now because he has been at the end of his physical and mental potential. He is refreshed and has come back hungry and fresh.

"I'm convinced you will see a great Thierry Henry from now until the end of May."

Henry opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 30th minute after Osei Sankofa was sent off for hauling down Robin van Persie.

From then on Henry was able to tease and torment Charlton at his leisure and he provided the pass for Justin Hoyte to score the second on the stroke of half-time.

Henry won another penalty when Souleymane Diawara fouled him in the 75th minute and van Persie converted the spot-kick before the Dutchman scored again in the last minute.

Wenger revealed Henry was still not fully fit but he had to play him after injuries ruled out Emmanuel Adebayor, Julio Baptista and Theo Walcott.

"He was as sharp as I expected," Wenger said. "Maybe it was an ideal game for him because it was 11 against 10 and the pace was not too high.

"I might have put him on the bench but we were so short that I had to start him. He is not 100 percent match fit yet.

"We have a lot to go for and a good Thierry Henry can make a difference in big games.

"We might be a long way from the title but we are still in the Champions League and have FA and League Cup matches coming up as well."

Wenger exchanged a brief handshake with his Charlton counterpart Alan Pardew at full-time as they met for the first time since their touchline row in November, when Pardew was in charge at West Ham.

The French coach was adamant he did not hold a grudge against Pardew and he said: "It was a very sober exchange. I do not talk too much to a manager when they have lost a game out of respect."

Pardew's side remain in second bottom after their first defeat since he replaced Les Reed on Christmas Eve and he admitted injured leading scorer Darren Bent is likely to be out of action for several weeks.

England striker Bent has a knee injury and Pardew, who questioned Sankofa's red card, said: "Darren got the injury quite early in the game against Aston Villa and we didn't really think it was an issue until he went home and got a reaction to it.

"The scan has showed his ligaments have been strained. It doesn't warrant an operation but he is going to need some rest.

"He's out on Saturday and he'll be doubtful for the next two or three after that as well.

"It was hard without him but the decision to send off Sankofa was a triple-whammy.

"Van Persie was two yards offside and I didn't think Osei pulled him that hard. He went down quite dramatically and we were up against it after that."

(China Daily via AFP January 4, 2007)

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