Henry evokes memories of Henry
It was a moment of glory, a moment of euphoria, almost a moment of fantasy. Thierry himself could not have written it much better.
It almost seemed too good to be true that, on his return to the Emirates Stadium, having been gone five years, Thierry Henry had scored the winner with his fifth involvement after coming on as a substitute. Expectations had needed to be adjusted – surely it was too much to expect a match-winning return from the man who many would back as the greatest player this club has ever seen.
For the time during which he was being put through his paces pre-match, supporters enjoyed his presence, rather than worrying about him spoiling his legacy. 10 minutes into his debut from the bench, those doubts were blown clean out of the water. In fact, it turned out to be quite the opposite – so far, he’s only added to his fantastic Arsenal story.
It was truly a measure of the man and the footballer that the first and only chance he received (and in fact pretty much manufactured himself – more on that later) he took with all the aplomb and clinicality you would have expected of the Henry we saw tear the Premier League apart 8 years ago in that magnificent unbeaten season.
During the home encounter with Leeds from that campaign, Henry put them to the sword with a spectacular four-goal haul, and much was made of that during the pre-game nostalgia. That day the Frenchman destroyed his opponents with his speed – on Monday night, it was his movement and intelligence that did it. His body might not be what it was, but his brain is certainly still working at full capacity.
The knowledge of when to pull away from his marker and when to go into the space cannot be undervalued. He took a quick evaluation of the scenario, and made his move. When Alex Song spotted the pass and executed it to perfection, was there ever any doubt? The footballing gods may not have been kind to Arsenal in recent seasons, but at that moment the stars seemed to align, and the Gunners were not denied their moment.
The finish was classic Henry, and the goal just what Arsenal have been looking for without skipper Robin van Persie. Neither Park Ju-Young or Marouane Chamakh have demonstrated that talent of being able to peel away and find the space effectively, which has been a problem for Arsene Wenger’s side. Thierry Henry showed he has the credentials to play in that van Persie predatory role, and it should be expected that he’ll fill in there whenever needed, and possibly even come in alongside the Dutchman when more firepower is needed – a mouth-watering prospect.
That knack of being able to find the space in which to score is what has been missed in the (so-far rare, touch wood) absences of Robin van Persie for Arsenal this season. Not only does Henry have that ability, but he has the aura which simply demands the ball – if he gets into a good position, you know that if you find him he’ll bury it. Just like he did last night.
Some words, too, for the supporting cast. Mikel Arteta, captain for the evening, yet again displayed marvellous intelligence and experience, rarely misplacing a single pass. His sublime poise and passing was one of the highlights, once you look past the obvious one. Another continuously solid performer has been Laurent Koscielny, and the French centre-back was once again dominant and didn’t allow Leeds to trouble him.
Alongside him Sebastien Squillaci, much maligned, didn’t cause any (more) heart trauma, and the equally written off Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin showed tender signs of improvement to any willing to sit up and notice. Chamakh tried to play his own role, instead of attempting to emulate the goal-scoring of van Persie and should perhaps be praised for doing so – he played to his strengths, giving decent lay-offs and helping link-up play. The hunger for goal-scoring still doesn’t quite seem to be there but it’s up to him to find that. Arshavin showed a lot more application and while his final product was still lacking, he showed some tidy play on the ball and threatened Leeds many times.
Aaron Ramsey showed invention, drive and purpose, although still not quite the composure – he, like many Arsenal players, could and most likely will learn from Henry. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was often a worry for Leeds with his power and pace as well as raw talent, while Alex Song did his job well. Nico Yennaris and Ignasi Miquel deputised well on each flank and did well to contain the ever-switching Andros Townsend.
The plaudits will of course, though, go to Thierry Henry. The King returning to his former haunt was always going to have some say on his comeback – luckily for those present and those watching at home, it was a big say. The magic of the FA Cup is still well and truly there. The same can be said for Henry himself.