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How would Arsenal and United have fared with Henry and Scholes from the season's start?

By Updated on Jan 29, 2012   3128 views   0 comments
There haven’t been too many major moves in the January transfer window as of yet, but two of the most notable involved the return of Premier League legends to Arsenal and Manchester United, who face off on Sunday afternoon at the Emirates Stadium. The two sides dominated the title race and football betting odds for several years in the late 90s and early 2000s, with Thierry Henry being at the forefront of Arsenal’s success and Paul Scholes being a similarly massive part of United's runs at and to the title.

Now, four and a half years after leaving Arsenal for Barcelona, Henry, now plying his trade in MLS with the New York Red Bulls, has returned to Arsenal on a short-term loan. And shortly after Henry sealed his momentous return, Scholes, who had retired last summer and joined United’s coaching staff, made an even more stunning comeback, signing on until the end of the season. With Henry, there had been at least a little speculation leading up to his return, but the same couldn't be said for Scholes' return, which came out of nowhere and likely surprised even the most knowledgeable of football insiders.

And as destiny would have it, both have made instant impacts, with Henry scoring the winner in his return match against Leeds in the FA Cup and Scholes scoring the opener last weekend for United in a win over Bolton. But how much of an impact would the two ’new’ signings have had they been playing for their respective sides from the start of the season?

Thierry Henry

In his prime, Henry was as lethal a finisher as anyone in the game, and he scored more than 20 Premier League goals an astounding five seasons in a row from 2001 to 2006. And while he isn’t at his best anymore, he hasn’t at all forgotten where the goal is, as shown by his 15 goals for the Red Bulls last season and the fine finish against Leeds.

While Arsenal are in the top five in the Premier League in goals, there’s no doubt they could have used his finishing from the start of the season. Going into their showdown with United, the Gunners have scored 38 goals in 21 matches. Almost half of those goals have been scored by Robin van Persie, who has netted a league-leading 18 times to date.

After RVP, however, Arsenal’s second-leading league scorer is summer signing Gervinho…with four. Theo Walcott has scored only three times after tallying nine times in the league last season, Andrei Arshavin has found the net only once after hitting 16 league goals in his first season and a half at Arsenal, Marouane Chamakh has only one goal in eight league appearances (with seven of those appearances coming off of the bench), and Park Chu-Young, a deadline day signing in the summer, is the Invisible Man. I’m sure he now wishes he’d opted for his original destination of Lille, but I digress.

Defensive issues hurt Arsenal in a poor early start, but as one can see, they haven’t had a reliable finisher beyond Van Persie, and that’s walking a dangerous line. So, it’s highly likely that, if Henry had been at Arsenal the entire season, he would have been in position to contribute regularly. Would he be a regular starter? Likely not.

But he would’ve made at least a few starts, and he would be one of their top names off of the bench. When you think about who’d be your dream substitute if you were chasing an equalizer or winner, there aren’t many names who would be ahead of him on the list, and it’s fair to say that Arsene Wenger felt far more confident bringing Henry on than he would had he been bringing on someone else at the time.

But would Arsenal’s fortunes be drastically different if Henry had been available for the duration? Five of their seven Premier League defeats to date were by one goal, and there are also disappointing home draws against Fulham and Wolves on their ledger. But lax defending at crucial times is to blame for several of those results, so it’d be a real reach to say that Arsenal would be drastically better, to the point of being serious title contenders.

However, he might well have made the difference in at least a couple of those matches, and that’d be enough to have the Gunners, who currently sit in fifth, level or just ahead of Chelsea for fourth spot and an all-important place in the Champions League playoff round.

Paul Scholes

With Scholes, it’s perhaps a little more cut and dry as to what his impact would be this season, since he was in the side just last season.

Last season, Scholes made more than 30 appearances in all competitions for United, starting in more than 20 of them, and he scored one goal, which came in United’s second Premier League match of the season, a 2-2 draw at Fulham, and notched a handful of assists.

Had he not retired, his appearances likely would have been set for a decrease, but due to United’s injury issues in midfield, he would have ended up a more integral part of the side than expected…as is the case at present. Tom Cleverley injured his ankle at Bolton in September, aggravated the injury at Everton in late October, and hasn’t made an appearance since, and Anderson missed almost two months of action, and illness has sidelined Darren Fletcher for the season and perhaps beyond.

Scholes’ return has been a real boost at a time United needed it, and his experience and leadership would have been a big asset when bodies were falling left and right, but would United’s fortunes be much different than they are at the moment? Much like with Arsenal, lax defending has hurt United in some key situations this season, and injuries have decimated their squad as well, so he alone wouldn‘t have done the trick. Scholes still has the skill to produce a quality performance from time to time, but his impact wouldn’t be such that United would still be in the Champions League or ahead of City in the Premier League table.

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About Stam

I started FM Scout for fun in the distant 2004. I'm proud of how this place has grown into a vibrant community and I try my best to improve it every year. Husband and father of two.

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