Continuing our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, this week we will end our quest for the greatest forwards to include in our team. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite striker, this weeks posts will bring us bang up to date and there will be a vote on Saturday.
19. Thierry Henry: 1999-2012.
Thierry appeared in 377 games over a 13 year period and scored 228 goals.
Thierry was born and raised in Les Ulis suburb of Paris which, despite sometimes being seen as a tough neighbourhood, provided good football facilities. As a seven-year-old, he showed great potential, and was recruited by the local club CO Les Ulis. He joined US Palaiseau in 1989, but after a year his father fell out with the club, so Henry moved to ES Viry-Châtillon and played there for two years.
In 1990, Monaco sent scout Arnold Catalano to watch Thierry, when he was just 13 years old, he scored all six goals in a 6–0 win. Catalano asked him to join Monaco without even having a trial first, later he joined Arsène Wenger’s Monaco as a youth player. Subsequently, he signed professional forms and made his professional debut in August 1994. Although Wenger suspected that Thierry should be deployed as a striker, he put him on the left wing because he believed that his pace, natural ball control and skill would be more effective against full-backs than centre-backs. He was named the French Young Footballer of the Year in 1996, and in the 1996–97 season when Monaco won the Ligue 1 title. By his third season, he had received his first cap for the national team, and was part of the winning team in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He continued to impress during his tenure with Monaco, and in his five seasons he scored 20 league goals in 105 appearances.
Thierry left Monaco in January 1999 and moved to Italian Serie A club Juventus for £10.5 million. He played on the wing, but found it difficult playing in an unfamiliar position against the Serie A defensive discipline, and scored just three goals in 16 appearances. Unsettled in Italy, he transferred from Juventus in August 1999 to Arsenal for an estimated fee of £11 million, reuniting with his former manager Arsène Wenger. It was at Arsenal that he made his name as a world-class footballer. Brought in as a replacement for fellow French forward Nicolas Anelka, Thierry was immediately moulded into a striker by Wenger, a move that would pay rich dividends in years to come. However, doubts were raised about his ability to adapt to the quick and physical English game when he failed to score in his first eight games. After several difficult months in England he conceded that he had to “be re-taught everything about the art of striking”. These doubts were dispelled when he ended his first season at Arsenal with an impressive goal tally of 26. Arsenal finished second in the league behind Manchester United, and lost in the UEFA Cup Final against Turkish side Galatasaray. Despite recording fewer goals and assists than his first season, his second season with Arsenal proved to be a breakthrough, as he became the club’s top goal scorer. Armed with one of the league’s best attacks, Arsenal closed in quickly on perennial rivals Manchester United for the league title.
Success finally arrived during the 2001–02 season. Arsenal finished seven points above Liverpool to win the league title, and defeated Chelsea 2–0 in the FA Cup Final. Thierry became the league’s top goal-scorer and netted 32 goals in all competitions as he led Arsenal to a double and his first silverware with the club. 2002–03 proved to be another productive season for him, as he scored 32 goals in all competitions while contributing 23 assists, remarkable returns for a striker. In doing so, he led Arsenal to another FA Cup triumph, where he was man-of-the-match in the Final. Even though Arsenal failed to retain their Premier League crown, he was named both the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year. His rising status as one of the world’s best footballers was affirmed when he emerged runner-up for the 2003 FIFA World Player of the Year award
In the 2003–04 season Thierry was again instrumental in Arsenal’s exceptionally successful campaign; together with team mates the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pirès, he ensured that the Gunners became the first team in more than a century to go through the entire domestic league season unbeaten, claiming the league title in the process. He was named as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, for the second year running. With 39 goals scored in all competitions, he led the league in goals scored and won the European Golden Boot.
In the 2004–05 season he maintained his reputation as one of Europe’s most feared strikers as he led the league in scoring, and with 31 goals in all competitions, he was the co-recipient (with Diego Forlán) of the European Golden Boot. In mid-2005 Thierry became the Arsenal Captain. The 2005–06 season proved to be one of remarkable personal achievements for Thierry on 17 October 2005, he became the club’s top goal-scorer of all time; two goals against Sparta Prague in the Champions League meant he broke Ian Wright’s record of 185 goals. On 1 February 2006, he scored a goal against West Ham United, bringing his league goal tally up to 151, breaking Arsenal legend Cliff Bastin’s league goals record. He scored his 100th league goal at Highbury, a feat unparalleled in the history of the club, and a unique achievement in the Premier League. He completed the season as the league’s top goal-scorer, and for the third time in his career, he was voted the FWA Footballer of the Year.
In a surprise move Arsenal sold Thierry to Barcelona on 25 June 2007, for €24 million.
Henry left Arsenal as the club’s leading all-time league goal-scorer with 174 goals and leading all-time goal-scorer in Europe with 42 goals; in July 2008, Arsenal fans voted him as Arsenal’s greatest player ever in Arsenal.com’s Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players poll.
Following his time with Barcelona, he signed a four-year deal for a reported €6.8 (£4.6) million per season, with the Red Bulls of the MLS.
After training with Arsenal during the MLS off-season, Thierry re-signed for the club on a two-month loan deal on 6 January 2012. This was to provide cover for players participating in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. He made his second Arsenal debut as a substitute against Leeds United in the FA Cup third round and scored the only goal. In his last league game on loan, he scored the winning goal in stoppage time in a 2–1 win against Sunderland.
Awards and honours:
Ligue 1 (1): 1996–97
Trophée des champions (1): 1997
Premier League titles: 2001–02, 2003–04
FA Cup: 2002, 2003, 2005
FA Community Shield: 2002, 2004
La Liga: 2008–09, 2009–10
Copa del Rey: 2008–09
Supercopa de España: 2009
UEFA Champions League: 2008–09
UEFA Super Cup: 2009
FIFA Club World Cup: 2009
New York Red Bulls:
MLS Eastern Conference: 2010
1998 FIFA World Cup
UEFA Euro 2000
FIFA Confederations Cup2003
UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year (1): 1996–97
PFA Players’ Player of the Year (2): 2002–03, 2003–04
PFA Team of the Year (6): 2000–01, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2003–04, 2004–05, 2005–06
FWA Footballer of the Year (3): 2002–03, 2003–04, 2005–06
Premier League Golden Boot (4): 2001–02, 2003–04, 2004–05, 2005–06.
Golden Boot Landmark Award 10 (1): 2004–05
Golden Boot Landmark Award 20 (1): 2004–05
Premier League Player of the Month (4): April 2000, September 2002, January 2004, April 2004
Goal of the Season (1): 2002–03
UEFA Team of the Year (5): 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006
MLS Best XI (2): 2011, 2012
MLS Player of the Month (1): March 2012
Onze d’Or (2): 2003, 2006
European Golden Boot (2): 2003–04, 2004–05
French Player of the Year (5): 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
IFFHS World’s Top Goal Scorer of the Year (1): 2003
FIFA FIF Pro World XI (1): 2006
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (1): Germany 2006
FIFA Confederations Cup Golden Ball (1): France 2003
FIFA Confederations Cup Golden Shoe (1): France 2003
UEFA European Football Championship Team of the Tournament (1): 2000
FIFA 100: 2004
English Football Hall of Fame: 2008
A statue of Thierry statue stands outside the Emirates Stadium honouring him as one of Arsenal’s all time greatest legends.
20. Robin van-Persie: 2004-2012
Robin played in 278 games over an 8 year period and scored 132 goals.
Robin was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The son of two artists, he was encouraged to follow in his parents’ footsteps, but he preferred football.
He joined Dutch side SBV Excelsior’s youth squad at the age of 14 years, but left at the age of 15 and signed for Feyenoord. He was quickly promoted into the first team due to injury problems among the squad, and made his debut for the club at 17, which was the first of 15 total starts. He received the KNVB Best Young Talent award at the end of the 2001–02 season and then signed a professional three-and-a-half-year contract the following season. Clashes with his manager Bert van Marwijk saw him demoted to the reserve squad, he finished his tumultuous debut season on the first team, making a total of 28 appearances and scoring eight goals, in addition to finishing runner-up in the KNVB Cup. Feyenoord unsuccessfully attempted to extend his contract during the off-season. His deteriorating relationship with van Marwijk led to his spending most of the 2003–04 season on the bench. He again played 28 matches, but finished with two fewer goals than the previous season.
On 17 May 2004, Robin signed a four-year deal with Arsenal for £2.75 million, just over half of Feyenoord’s original asking price of £5 million. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who planned to convert him from a left winger to a centre forward, said of his new acquisition, “He can play on the left side of midfield, as a creative player behind the main strikers or as a target man. Robin spent most of his time on the bench during earlier parts of the 2004–05 season, and made his competitive debut on 27 October by scoring Arsenal’s opening goal in a 2–1 League Cup win over Manchester City. He was sent off for the first time, in an Arsenal shirt, on 26 February against Southampton, following a lunge at left back Graeme Le Saux, for which Wenger was seen yelling an obscenity at him from the sidelines. He then later lambasted him in the press stating “I do not support Van Persie today” Telegraph sportswriter Clive White described Van Persie in his match report as “21 going on nine.” He was consequently benched for a number of games, starting with Arsenal’s FA Cup replay against Sheffield United, and he was reintroduced into the squad only after Henry was out with a calf injury, his return to the first team saw him score twice in a FA Cup semi-final win over Blackburn Rovers. The rest of his season was cut short by injury, and he finished with ten goals in 41 appearances in all competitions. Robin’s good form at the start of the 2005–06 season earned him the Player of the Month award for November 2005 after eight goals in eight starts, and he was rewarded with a five-year contract extension until 2011. Two days after signing the contract, however, he was once again hit by injury when an opponent stepped on his foot and broke his toe during an FA Cup match.
The beginning of the 2006–07 season included an airborne volley against Charlton Athletic that Arsene called “the goal of a lifetime” and he was later named BBC Sport’s Goal of the Month for September, and he capped off the calendar year by being named the 2006 Rotterdam Sportsman of the Year. His season, however, ended early for the second time in his career on 21 January, when he fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. After the departure of Thierry Henry he assumed the role as Arsenal’s main striker. Following a streak of seven goals in ten regular-season games, he was sidelined for two months with a knee injury suffered on international duty. He made his comeback in Arsenal’s Champions League group stage on 12 December and made his Premier League return in the win against Chelsea over the weekend. However, he picked up a recurrent injury that kept him sidelined until January when he played 45 minutes in a League Cup game against Tottenham Hotspur. He was withdrawn at half-time following another injury scare and featured sporadically throughout the rest of the campaign. The following season (2008–09) he was named as the Arsenal.com Player of the Season. With only one year remaining of his contract, it was announced in July that he had signed a new long-term contract with his club, stating, “My heart is with Arsenal and I just can’t picture myself in a different shirt.”
On 14 November 2009, he injured his ankle in an international friendly and was initially expected to be out for six weeks, but further tests showed that he would be out for five months. Before the start of the 2010–11 season, his squad number was changed to number 10. He made his 200th appearance in August but an ankle injury suffered in the game placed him on the sidelines once again. He returned as a substitute for Arsenal’s
0–1 defeat to Newcastle United on 7 November.
On 1 January 2011, he scored his first goal of the season in a 3–0 away win over Birmingham City. On 15 January, he added two more goals to his tally in a comfortable 3–0 win over West Ham. This made him only the fourth Dutchman to reach 50 goals in England’s top division. Robin scored his first career hat-trick in a 3–0 win over Wigan Athletic on 22 January and two goals against Newcastle United in a 4–4 draw on 5 February. Continuing his fine form, he hit a brace the following week against Wolverhampton Wanderers scoring both Arsenal goals in a 2–0 win including a volley from inside the box. The ten goals he scored between 1 January and 12 February set a new Premier League record for most goals scored in the first two months of a calendar year.
He set the Emirates alight with a goal from an almost impossible angle in Arsenal’s fight back against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 which ended 2–1 in favour of the Gunners. On 27 February 2011, Van Persie captained Arsenal at Wembley Stadium in the League Cup final, scoring the first half equalizer for the Gunners. It was his first goal at Wembley and his first in a cup final for Arsenal. However, he was later taken off in the second half with a knee injury he picked up while scoring the goal. He was voted as the second best player of the 2010–11 season on Arsenal’s official website and also received the team’s Goal of the Season award for his audacious strike in the 2–1 victory over Barcelona in the Champions League.
Having been appointed vice-captain for the 2010–11 season, he was promoted to club captain at the start of the 2011–12 season. He finished the season as the top goal-scorer in the Premier League with 30 goals, and became Arsenal’s 8th all-time top scorer with 132 goals.
On 4 July 2012, he announced that he would not be signing a new contract with Arsenal.
Finally after a series of rumours he was transferred to Manchester United for a reported £22.5 million. Supporters of Manchester United voted Van Persie as the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year for the 2012–13 season.
Written by GunnerN5 and complied by Gooner in Exile