Norwich City fans have learned to be wary of loan players, especially confident young men from north London, but Henri Lansbury was different. He immediately endeared himself to Carrow Road when, 35 minutes into his debut, he played an inch-perfect through ball to set up Grant Holt’s second goal in the 4-1 win over Ipswich. The conception showed rare vision, while the execution was exquisite.
In truth, his next two or three appearances of an initial 28-day emergency loan didn’t quite live up to that promise before injury intervened, but he showed enough evidence of a classy and committed performer to persuade Paul Lambert to take him back until the end of the season after returning to Arsenal briefly in January.
Lansbury was one of the emerging starlets at the Emirates when he was struck down with glandular fever in the 2007/8 season, and scored four goals in 16 appearances on loan at Scunthorpe in League One as he gradually returned to fitness the following year. This was followed by a year at Watford in the Championship, contributing five goals and four assists in the season in which he also made his Premier League debut for the Gunners. That experience proved invaluable as Lansbury showed a physicality to his game wholly at odds with the often limp efforts of another former Arsenal loanee to wear yellow and green, and the seven yellow cards in Lansbury’s 23 games for Norwich showed this steelier side to his game.
But it was his winning goal against Millwall three minutes into stoppage time on February 1 that showed what he was all about, a strong run into the box allowing him to benefit from Grant Holt’s touch and sparking the kind of late celebrations we almost took for granted. He scored again in the 2-1 win over Reading in the next home game (more late drama naturally, but Grant Holt’s winner this time), and was beginning to look the real deal. Just as important as his performances was the part he was playing in cementing a team spirit unequalled anywhere in the Championship. He’s an ebullient character is our Henri, as his barely intelligible postings on Twitter showed – complete with photographs of him dressed in various animal and fancy dress costumes (“I’m just living my life, having fun” etc). Grant Holt clearly loved him, and he carried a refreshing sense of belonging for a loan player, which started to heal the Carrow Road wounds opened by the disastrous band of mercenaries assembled by Glenn Roeder. Lansbury even earned cult status with his “Dougie” dance after scoring against Leeds (Teach me how to Dougie, Henri style)
The arrival of Dani Pacheco from Liverpool saw the pair of youngsters form a close bond on and off the pitch, combining well on it and clearly enjoying each other’s company off it. As the season reached its climax, the return to form and fitness of Andrew Surman, David Fox’s superb form, the undroppability of Andrew Crofts and the sheer genius of Wes Hoolahan saw Lansbury playing an important role from the bench, and the 3-0 defeat at Swansea seven games from the end of the season was to be his last start. But it is hugely to his credit that in every one of those vital last half-dozen games, Lansbury came off the bench to good effect, showing every inch as much desire as the players contracted to the club long term. His cameo alongside Dani and Wessi in the final game against Coventry was a masterclass in attacking, passing football, and his celebrations afterwards showed that he cares. In an interview with the Official Arsenal Magazine, he said: “I did get attached to the club and felt strongly that I was part of the team.”
Henri, the feeling’s mutual.
It’s hardly surprising that Lansbury feels he can be a part of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign next season. After all, he has seen Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey end the season occupying the Gunners’ midfield and, being a confident lad, he’ll feel he can emulate their success.
Whether he can or not depends on who arrives at the Emirates in the summer, whether Arsene Wenger gives him a chance, and if he’s good enough to take it. While he impressed at Norwich in the Championship, and could do so again in the Premier League, it’s another matter whether he’s quite good enough to be in a team that will be expected to challenge for the title again. I’m not expecting a season-long loan, but if the opportunities don’t come at Arsenal, another half season is not out of the question. Lambert would know exactly what he’s getting.