Thierry Henry scores fairy-tale winner on return to Arsenal
‘It was an amazing feeling’ says Henry, who ran into into Arsene Wenger’s arms in celebration
Arsenal 1 Leeds 0. This was almost too far-fetched to be even the stuff of fairy tales. Five years after leaving Arsenal for Barcelona – and just ten minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute – Thierry Henry scored the winner for the Gunners against Leeds in their FA Cup third round tie at the Emirates Stadium.
It was a sweet strike from the 34-year-old Frenchman, drifting off his marker to collect Alex Song’s pass and then coolly angling the ball past Andy Lonergan into the far corner of the Leeds goal.
Henry, who scored 226 goals for Arsenal between 1999 and 2007, celebrated his 227th by running into the arms of a delighted Arsene Wenger. “It was a dream comeback, the kind of story you tell young kids about football,” the Arsenal boss said later. “He was already a legend here but tonight he has added just a bit more to the whole story.”
Henry only finalised his six-week loan deal from the New York Red Bulls at the weekend but Wenger had no qualms about naming him on the bench as he rested Robin van Persie and made do without Gervinho, away with the Ivory Coast squad at the Africa Cup of Nations. Henry repaid his manager’s faith and said later: “It's incredible. I never thought I would play for Arsenal again, let alone score the winner [but] I love this club and I wanted to help out. It was an amazing feeling when I scored and hopefully it won't be the last one.”
It won’t be. Henry did what neither Marouane Chamakh nor Andre Arshavin managed in the preceding 78 minutes – to keep his cool and take his chance in front of goal. Chamakh and Arshavin in contrast wasted a host of chances for the Gunners as they pressurised Leeds from the first whistle.
But with Arsenal unable to find the all important goal, despite the best efforts of 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the most lively player on the pitch, Wenger hauled off Chamakh on 68 minutes and to a deafening roar on came Henry to score his first goal in an Arsenal shirt since a strike against Middlesbrough in February 2007.
Asked later what he’d told Henry prior to his introduction, Wenger said: “You don't need to tell him too much. He has seen it all and done it all. You could see when he came on he had a presence on the pitch and if we could find him, he would be dangerous.”
Leeds almost snatched a late equaliser when Mikael Forssell’s fierce shot was smartly saved by Wojciech Szczesny but boss Simon Grayson later admitted that Monday night had all been about an ageing Frenchman. “Thierry has shown that class so many times, and you know he can do something out of nothing... It was probably written in the stars what was going to happen with Henry.”
Arsenal next’s match is a visit to Swansea on Sunday in the Premier League and Wenger must now work out how best to accommodate Van Persie and Henry. Asked how he might do it Wenger said with a smile: “I don't know yet. He [Thierry] can play behind or in front of Robin or on the flank, Robin can play on the flank too, but I don't know yet what I will do. They can play together, of course.”
As dilemmas go, it’s not a bad one to have.