Written by Jamie
When Thierry Henry scored in Madrid in 2005, the ITV commentator, Peter Drury, I think, called him “the gunner galactico” and since we have now given our record scorer a statue, it seems a fair representation of his greatness.
In April 2004 I stood in the lower east stand, just over an hour before kickoff. The gates were open for a morning kick off against Liverpool. A game which after losing and FA Cup Semi Final to Manchester United and a Champions League quarter final to Chelsea only days before had taken on increased significance.
If Arsenal were to fail now, that would surely be the end.
There were probably only a hundred gooners in the ground. Henry was making a joke of the fitness test Gary Lewin was asking him to perform.
Jogging round cones with all the enthusiasm of a teenage boy doing the washing up. Gary Lewin shakes his head with a wry smile. As the five/ ten minute session ends on the sundrenched Highbury pitch both Lewin and Henry walk for the tunnel, Henry seeming to plead like a kid who had not done enough to earn his pocket money.
Henry started the game with a back injury and had an awful first half but did manage to lob Dudek. Arsenal ended the half 1-2 down.
Months later the players were asked what Wenger said at half time and they replied that the only instruction was to keep passing.
Suddenly Ljungberg and Pires where everywhere and pretty soon Pires had levelled the score from close range.
Then it happened, Thierry Henry picked the ball up just inside the Liverpool half. Faced with a wall of white shirts he first jogged then sprinted, faced with Carragher a change of feet was enough. Each row in the East and West stands rising as Henry went passed.
Then faced with Dudek, Henry side footed the ball to the corner of the net. You often hear the phrase, that lifted the roof, well that doesn’t do it justice.
After a week of torture, everybody convinced we would blow it, we came back from the dead and blew Liverpool away.
Henry often recalls this to be his favourite goal, largely I assume because of the significance to the team. You see, that is what great players do, they take a bad day, they take fear and panic and they blow it away in the blink of an eye.
Henry went on to score a lucky third and Arsenal went on to win the League and become the first English team since football became a serious game to go a season unbeaten.
That moment changed the course of football history.
Arsenal had other great players, gladiators like Campbell and Vieira, the extraordinary Bergkamp, First goal Freddie and Thierry Henry’s delightful sidekick Robert Pires.
As Bergkamp was in his earlier career, Thierry Henry was now Prima Ballerina, the star turn, and elegant mix of dexterity and finesse. The perfect first touch, pace, poise and technique.
Henry had his moments though, he sat in tears after the 2001 FA Cup Final defeat against Liverpool. Henry among others missed a hatful in a game that Arsenal dominated and lost. He was out of sorts in Copenhagen 12 months earlier as Arsenal lost the UEFA cup final to Galatasaray.
Henry would lead the Arsenal’s scoring charts again in 2001/2 as the Gunners went on to lift the double. Henry and Pires were telepathic by now and the first two thirds of the season swept all before them.
The following year Arsenal were to throw away the league title after having held a big lead over Manchester United.
Henry had been incredible at times including a stunning hat-trick in Rome and a monumental performance against Spurs at Highbury in a game where for the last ten minutes Henry and Pires continually humiliated Spurs’ Stephen Carr after Carr had flattened Pires in the first few minutes of the game.
From 2001-5 he and Arsenal got there rewards for the work the team had put in since Henry’s arrival in 1999 as a replacement for Nicolas Anelka. The trophies flooded in.
Dennis Bergkamp played a role in Henry’s development, Henry spent the first two years of his Arsenal career trying to bend shots around the keeper. The Bergkamp-esque curler, something which he eventually mastered and made his own.
Bergkamp taught him where to run. Pires taught him how to hang out on the left and let the game come to him. Like Cruyff’s theory of creating space by standing still.
Late in a game Henry would stand, hands on hip on the half way line, usually on the left. Arsenal defending a lead, only to spring to lightning paced action should the ball be fed to him on the counter attack.
- The trademark dummy and drag back,
- the blind runs to the by-line only for him to wriggle a way out,
- the explosive one on one finisher,
- the frustrated whack from outside the box,
- the corner flag showman in the dying minutes,
- the pumped match winner in Madrid.
Whatever you remember King Henry for I am sure you will be recalling it now with a smile on your face.
It is also time to dispel a few myths about the great man.
Idiots might tell you that Henry didn’t score in the big games, He scored great goals against Manchester United, Real Madrid, Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Roma, Inter Milan and Juventus.
He didn’t score against Barcelona in Arsenal’s the 2006 Champions League final defeat.
He did go on to play for them though.
Henry scored his final Arsenal home goal to win a tight game with Manchester United. As Sky’s Martin Tyler remarked, “a great moment from the great man”.
Henry was excellent for Barcelona and won everything he hadn’t already won with England and France. He might not of recaptured his Arsenal form but he did edge Ronaldinho out of the left side of Barcelona’s attack.
My favourite memory of the great man is probably this.
In 2003 I travelled to Milan to see the second group stage game against Inter. The first a 3-0 home defeat fell like an axe.
In the San Siro, minus key players Arsenal won 5-1. Late in the game Henry picked up a ball on the break and sprinted towards the box. He stopped, waited for the Inter defender to catch up, teasing, only to shift the ball past him and smash a left for shot in to the bottom corner. The away end went bananas and I got very drunk in one of Milan’s Irish bars.
Arsenal had been slated for the first Inter game and the Old Trafford brawl which followed but as Henry’s shot smashed the net it was all consigned to history.
Thierry Henry, The Gunner Galactico.