Who writes his scripts? The one played out on Monday was almost too good to be true. It was the sort of story that only appears in dreams or in comic books. A superhero returning to his home in a time of need and providing the winning moment, or a King returning to the arena in which he once reigned and reclaiming his place on the throne after being written off by many; whichever way you look at it, it’s barely believable and is the stuff of a legend.
However the word legend and Thierry Henry fit together. The stage had been set for him, and after entering from stage left, he nailed his lines to perfection. This wasn’t acting though. This was the real Thierry. There were no pre-planned movements, finishes or celebrations, it was all natural ability and raw emotion from the great man.
As soon as Thierry Henry received the ball from Alex Song’s slide rule pass in the inside left position, everyone in the stadium knew what he was going to do. Thierry probably knew, but he didn’t need to think about it. He’d done it numerous times before when wearing red and white, so what to do came to him instinctively. The first touch was superb before the trademark finish.
Henry opened his body up in typical fashion and calmly slid the ball across the goalkeeper. It was all done at such a speed that the keeper didn’t have time to get out towards Henry and make a save. His running speed might not be the same, but his speed of thought, speed of control and speed of finishing in the box is still intact. The best players never lose that until they retire.
The pass from Alex Song was excellent as Henry had made a similar run a few times before he scored, yet hadn’t been fed with the ball. That was what marked him out from any of the other strikers, apart from Robin van Persie, that we’ve seen play for Arsenal this season. He spotted where the danger was and where there was a weakness in the opposition defence. His pace was good enough to get him into the position to score, but it was his speed of thought and instinctive ability to find space that allowed him to score.
Were Chamakh or Arshavin to receive the ball in a similar position, given the form they’re in, they’d probably take too many touches and lose it, or try to pass it back to a midfielder.
After Henry did find the net, the celebrations were epic. The only times I’ve heard the Emirates as loud as that for a single goal were when Thierry scored his last goal at the Emirates before Monday against Manchester United in 2007, and when Arshavin scored against Barcelona. This season has seen some incredible lows for Arsenal, but I think that one moment made up for all of them. I never thought we’d see Henry wear the red and white again, let alone score and win a match by doing so. Looking around the stadium, younger fans were realising what all the fuss was about, and some grown men were shedding the odd tear of joy. It really was a moment to remind you why following a football team is worth all the fuss.
As for Thierry, he couldn’t play it cool, like he often did after scoring for Arsenal. He clearly hadn’t expected to score before the game, his natural predatory instincts took care of that when the chance came, so in some ways he looked slightly lost as to what to do. However at the same time, he looked like he’d found home again. Deep down inside, I’m sure he’s missed the big atmosphere, the tension, the chanting between fans and the big stage. Even though Henry only played at the Emirates for one season, he looked completely at home because of everyone around him. He was able to feed off the crowd and run towards Arsene Wenger to celebrate.
There was then some classic Thierry with the pumping of the cannon on his chest and waving of his arms to pump the crowd up. His emotions had taken over amidst the outpouring of joy and noise from the home fans. It was spine tingling stuff. Even hearing the stadium announcer say the words ‘Arsenal goal scorer, 12 Thierry Henry!’ was enough to give you goose bumps. Despite the change of number, it just sounded right to hear those words.
As soon as he came onto the pitch, it felt like he’d never been away. He fills the shirt out slightly more than he did when he first signed in 1999, and has added the beard, but he still has the aura that worries the opposition. Even though we weren’t expecting much from him, as the game went on being scoreless, there was a sense amongst supporters that we’d be ok because Thierry Henry was waiting on the bench. Thierry said himself that the cannon is heavy, yet he showed he still has what it takes to wear it. However I doubt he even has to put the shirt on to wear the cannon, it’s imprinted on his heart.
If Thierry Henry does nothing in the next two months, it’ll still have been worth loaning him just for that moment. Not necessarily because it was goal to knock out a Championship side in the FA Cup 3rd round, when put like that it doesn’t seem that impressive, but because it brought Arsenal fans, and fans of other clubs, together to witness and celebrate one of the all-time Premier League greats showing he is still he player of real class. However more than that, it was so refreshing and amazing to see someone, who arrived in England as just another player, show such immense passion and love for a club and get caught up in English football fandom. He truly understands the mentality of Arsenal fans, the English game and why it’s important to everyone. Regardless of what else he does on the pitch in the next month and a half, for that, he will always, and should always, be revered as the ultimate hero for Arsenal fans.
Whilst we as fans have looked to him as a hero to try emulate what he did on the pitch ourselves, he has looked to us as fans to emulate us in the way he embraced everything about Arsenal Football Club. It therefore only seemed fitting that he was able to fulfil the perfect hero story.
It’s easy to forget that others were playing as well. Nico Yennaris deserves a special mention for how he performed after coming on at right back, whilst Ignasi Miquel also performed admirably at left back. Mikel Arteta skippered the side well by keeping things ticking over in midfield and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed glimpses of why everyone is excited to see him develop. It almost goes unnoticed when Laurent Koscielny has a good game because we’ve got used to seeing it, such has been his improvement this season, and Alex Song also had an excellent match.
Ordinarily, we’d be slightly disappointed to have taken so long to break down a side from a lower division, but we came up against a battling Leeds side who defended very well. We did create chances, and until Thierry appeared, our finishing was all that was lacking. To be honest though, given what happened later in the game, scoring before Henry came on would have ruined the script.
I’ll be surprised if Thierry Henry starts at Swansea on Sunday because Robin van Persie will return. With no Gervinho though, there’s a space available on the left that isn’t automatically going to go to Andrey Arshavin. Yossi Benayoun will also have a say in that, so I think the likelihood is that Henry will be ready if needed from the bench. His goal against Leeds will put the fear factor back into the opposition as they’ll be extremely weary of the Frenchman. The cliché ‘form is temporary but class is permanent’ couldn’t be more true of Thierry Henry. He’s definitely still got it, and that’ll worry every team we’re due to play before he goes back across the Atlantic. For the fear factor alone, I think Arsene has been vindicated in bringing Thierry back.
This has been a difficult blog to write as it’s almost impossible to put what happened at the Emirates on Monday into words and do it justice. If you were watching the match in the stadium or on TV, or listening on the radio, or somehow following it live, you’ll have got a pretty good idea of what the moment meant and what it was all about. It was etched on the face of every Arsenal fan in the ground, etched on the face of Arsene Wenger, and etched on the face of Thierry Henry. A true hero had scored and the King had come home.