Monday night marked the return of arguably the greatest player to have ever played in the Premiership. The eyes of the footballing world were focused solely on the Emirates Stadium as, after nearly 5 years away, Thierry Henry once again put on an Arsenal shirt and scored one of his trademark goals to help the Gunners into the 4th round of the FA Cup.
Only in their wildest dreams could Arsenal fans have envisaged that their hero would one day return to the club where he made a name for himself and guide them to victory once again. And despite returning as a 34-year-old, sporting a fairly untrendy beard and not looking quite as fit since his first spell, Henry played as if he had never been away. And his goal last night, as so many of his previous 226 for the club, was nothing short of clinical. Even if you are not an Arsenal fan, it would be difficult not to be humbled seeing Henry return to the club where he became a hero and score the winning goal. This was truly one of the most romantic footballing moments in recent years.
But I can’t help but think what the back pages would be saying if Henry had never been involved. Of course, the headlines were all about Henry, with phrases like ‘The Return of the King’ and ‘Va Va Voom’ used emphatically amongst the tabloids and various famous Tweeters. But had Henry not made such a memorable impact, the focus would surely be on an Arsenal side struggling at home against lower league opposition.
Prior to Henry’s introduction in the 68th minute, Arsenal were woeful. Despite their injury concerns, one would feel that they had enough experience in their squad to win comfortably against an albeit stubborn Leeds United side. Yet they were restricted to half chances for the majority of the match and the longer they struggled to find a breakthrough there was a strong sense that Leeds were in with a chance of causing an upset. With top scorer Robin Van Persie rested for the match, this was the perfect opportunity for Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin to prove themselves, having found themselves slowly being ignored by Arsene Wenger. Yet their presence proved ineffective, with Chamakh’s performance being described by one news report as ‘playing like Thierry Henry’s statue’. On the whole, the squad was simply lacking in imagination, desire and flair.
For 68 minutes, it was the same old story of Arsenal underperforming and underachieving. But once King Henry returned to action, all those concerns were completely forgotten. We all know that during his first spell, Henry was capable of turning a match in an instant, and that is exactly what he did.
Credit must go to Arsene Wenger in his acquisition of Henry. After all, it can only be a good thing for Arsenal. If his performance last night was anything to go by, he and Robin Van Persie could prove to be a deadly strike partnership for the next six and a half weeks, especially for the visit of Manchester United on 22nd January. But Henry will be so much more than just another striker. Much has been said (including by myself) of Arsene Wenger’s stubborn attitude of ‘youth over experience’ and Henry is the perfect role model for Wenger’s still very young squad and you would expect all of them to learn a great deal from him during his second stint at the club. He can teach them to love the club that they play for, as he still does, and like him, they can learn to play, not just with their feet, but with their hearts.
On the other hand, Wenger’s decision to bring in Henry could also be seen as an act of desperation. Arsenal had an awful start to the season and have only really been rescued recently by the sparkling form of Robin Van Persie. They currently lie 5th in the Premiership, 12 points adrift from the league leaders and are in serious danger of not qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 15 years. These statistics clearly do not meet the expectations of the club and its long-suffering supporters and it does not look good that Wenger has had to resort to bringing in a player from the glory days in an attempt to rejuvenate his squad. Especially seeing as Henry will be gone by the end of February.
But for now, we should celebrate the return of a legend. We should remember Henry’s goal as a wonderful moment for Arsenal and for football in general. But it will take a lot more than the return of the king to pave over the cracks at Arsenal. And while Henry’s status as a legend will be around forever, he sadly will not.
Read more of Sam’s articles at http://diamondformation.wordpress.com/. Also follow him on Twitter: @DiamondFormat.
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