Back in the 2006-2007 EPL season, Arsenal had a long spell without their “talismanic” captain, Thierry Henry.
Nearly every Gooner I know was desperate for Henry to come back. According to them, Arsenal needed his leadership, his speed, his skill, and his scoring.
But that period without Henry was arguably the best of Arsenal’s season. It seemed that the Gunners really didn’t need any of the things Henry provided—and while they weren’t great without him, there were glimmers of hope for the future.
Alexander Hleb’s confidence grew because he didn’t have Henry scowling at him if a pass went astray. Kolo Toure and Gilberto were captains who instilled confidence in the youngsters rather than fear. Tomas Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas were shooting because they didn’t have Henry to pass to. And Emmanuel Adebayor excelled under the increased responsibility he never had when Henry was on the pitch.
It was clear, in other words, that it was time for Henry to go.
And go he did—which makes the best story of 2007, for Arsenal fans, the defection of Thierry Henry to Barcelona.
Everything Arsenal hinted at during that spell without Henry in 2006-2007 has come to fruition in the first half of the 2007-2008 season.
Henry’s departure has freed the Gunners from their past. No longer do they have to live up to the Invincibles, nor even pretend to aspire to something so unlikely. No longer do they have to play a game tailored to Henry's magic. No longer do they have to put up with the constant inter-squad squabbling about Arsenal’s ambitions.
Without Henry, the Young Gunners have been free to make their own history. They're in charge. They're the ones to blame if things go wrong, and the ones to applaud if things go right.
And so far this season, things have been going very right.
Even if they fail to win any trophies, Arsenal have achieved what everyone said was impossible: They’ve been competitive.
No Henry was supposed to mean no chance of a top-four finish. Instead, Arsenal recorded their finest ever start to a season.
No Henry was supposed to see Tottenham leapfrog Arsenal at the top of the table. Instead, Arsenal have already done the double on their North London rivals.
No Henry was supposed to be doom and gloom. Instead, it's meant an Arsenal rebirth.
So here it is—Boxing Day 2007—and Arsenal are in second place with 44 points.
Sometimes the best moves that can be made during a transfer window are the moves away from a club.
Just ask Arsene Wenger.