Thierry Henry vs Leeds – Return of the King

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TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh reflects on Thierry Henry’s perfect return to Arsenal and his FA Cup goal against Leeds United…

Arsène Wenger described it as “a dream”. Such was the romanticism of Thierry Henry’s goal against Leeds United, it really did seem too good to be true. In what had been a particularly drab FA Cup tie, it was the Premier League’s greatest ever showman that set it alight. The allure of football is built upon these magic moments and it summed up so much about one of the sport’s most intriguing stars.

Henry had made a tearful return to his former club the week before to unveil a bronze statue of his celebration against Tottenham. For a man who by his own admission does not show emotion, it was a remarkable sight seeing the Frenchman welling up. There was a sense that this was a different Henry that had returned from America, one who was now wearing his love for the club proudly on his sleeve.

The buzz in the Emirates that night was electric. Excitement grew around the stadium as news trickled through that Henry would be on the bench. Consequently, the events on the pitch merely seemed like a warm-up act until the star attraction was due on stage.

With the sides still locked at 0-0, Wenger called upon his former protégée to make the difference. This faith, as it had been so many times already, was to be rewarded once again. As ‘12’, Henry’s new number, was displayed on the Fourth Official’s board, the stadium was blinded by a wall of flashing cameras. The superstar, on the first night of his comeback tour, was ready to perform.

Henry’s only season at the Emirates had not been his fondest. He had struggled with an injury and also come under criticism for the manner in which he handled the role of captain. This was his chance to write a fresh chapter on those memories. His first few touches showed glimpses of what the Arsenal faithful knew he was capable of. That yard of pace might have gone but that exquisite touch and that eye for the spectacular were still very much a part of his game. And as they were about to see, he could still execute that trademark Henry finish.

Flirting with the last man of the back four, as he had so often done before, Henry cushioned Alex Song’s inch-perfect through ball to set up one of the most goose-bump inducing moments in modern football. Time seemed to stop as the whole ground held their breath, willing Henry to finish it. There was only place it was going – he opened up his body to sidefoot the ball effortlessly around Andy Lonergan in the Leeds goal, turning back the clock ten years to Arsenal’s glory days at the turn of the century.

The celebration said as much about the new Henry, as the goal did about his former self. He wheeled away with his arms outstretched, clenching his fists and opening them again – he literally wanted to inhale the moment and absorb it forever. He ran along the touchline to give his master, Wenger, a brief embrace. These were the two architects of Arsenal’s most successful years and the sheer glee they exuded that night was a glorious sight.

This goal, with the narrative that surrounded it, was special. Should Henry return again this January, the pressure to perform similar miracles will be immense. But if there’s one man who could do it, it’s the King.


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