Gunners legend proves that nobody has a better scriptwriter on riveting FA Cup weekend when his comeback goal provided the most compelling storyline of them all
By Wayne Veysey at Emirates Stadium
In an FA Cup weekend of compelling storylines, Thierry Henry proved that nobody has a better scriptwriter than the man whose legend is immortalised with a statue outside Emirates Stadium.
The two Manchester clubs produced another bone-jarring derby classic, Paolo Di Canio did his bit for lower league romance and Paul Scholes surprised even his manager by shuffling back on to centre stage.
But even those notable dramas were a mere footnote to Henry’s extraordinary, seemingly pre-ordained comeback goal.
The rest of a rotten game was erased from the memory banks the moment Henry peeled away from Leeds’ well-drilled defence with 12 minutes left on the clock, gathered Alex Song’s immaculate pass and opened his body up to guide a right foot shot with complete precision and utter certainty past the flailing left arm of Andy Lonergan and into the net.
Watching from his dugout berth, Arsene Wenger initially felt the angle was too narrow for Henry to guide the ball into the goal and thought for a millisecond that Arsenal’s record goalscorer would opt for power.
But the Sat-Nav that served Henry so well from the inside left-flank position in his glorious first spell at the club was perfectly tuned to the opportunity, the moment and the occasion. “He doesn’t force the shot and still made it look easy,” observed Wenger. “That was the Thierry Henry finish.”
It was a goal that will surely take a prominent place even in the golden scrapbook of Arsenal’s greatest player.
Perhaps only when Andrey Arshavin’s late winner against Barcelona last February sealed a famous 2-1 victory has Emirates Stadium been sent into such a frenzy in its five-and-a-half year existence.
Yet even that moment did not possess the sheer magic, romance and other-worldliness of the comeback kid’s 227th goal in red and white, and his first since February 3, 2007.
Given how the FA Cup early rounds pale into comparison to the Champions League knockout stages, Henry’s goal was not as vital, of course, as Arshavin’s but to this correspondent’s ears, the noise seemed more spontaneous and deafening. It mattered in a different way.
Wenger rarely chooses the wrong words on such occasions and summed up the moment perfectly: “It was like a dream when he scored. It was a story you would tell a young kid when you want to tell them a story about football. It’s not often like that in our game.”
Henry made an irritating habit of celebrating with a scowl in his pomp but there was none of that self-serving seriousness here.
His face was wreathed in joy and relief, mouth wide open, as he raced with his arms outstretched and head arched up to the stars where it had been written to the stand behind the goal, where he was met by delirious supporters celebrating as if Arsenal had just won the cup.
Living legend | Henry celebrates after marking his comeback with famous goal
The Frenchman then remembered the man who provided the platform for his second coming and burst towards Wenger, where he threw himself into the arms of the man who first moulded him as a teenager in Monaco.
It was a wonderful moment, for supporters and neutrals alike. Even the most hardened press box cynics struggled to suppress a smile.
|A DREAM RETURN
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|78'||Henry scores for Arsenal!! Having been put through by Song, running in behind right-back Thompson, the club legend expertly curls the ball around Lonergan and into the corner.|
| PLAYER RATING
|8.5||He just had to, didn't he? Provided the greatest fairytale of the third round weekend by coming off the bench and rejuvenating a dying match with a vintage finish across the keeper that was straight out of the scrapbook of majestic Henry finishes.|
Up in a corporate box high up in the stadium, a grinning David Beckham surrounded by his sons, one of whom is an Arsenal fan, watched as Henry slapped the badge on his shirt. “He was already a legend and he has added a bit more to his story,” said Wenger of his former captain.
For the best part of the next two months – Wenger revealed afterwards that Henry’s six-and-a-half week spell can be extended to a maximum of eight weeks - there is no need for Arsenal fans to gaze nostalgically outside the stadium at the bronze monument to their record goalscorer.
Instead, they have the living legend himself to watch in the flesh. Here he was on his old manor looking every bit as lithe and lean as in his wondrous pomp, with a piratical beard the only obvious physical difference to the appearance that has always made marketing executives drool.
Henry knows how to work up a crowd, too, and the raucous odes to the Frenchman were dotted at appropriate intervals across the evening, first when the teams were read out a few minutes before kick-off and again when, attired in club tracksuit, he was instructed to warm up along the touchline early in the second half.
By the time the number 29 was held up in the 68th minute and Marouane Chamakh shuffled off the pitch, headed for the Africa Cup of Nations, following another painful display, the crowd was fiercely chanting Henry’s name. As one Arsenal fan sat next to the press box said: “It feels like Christmas all over again.”
Even for a player of Henry’s track record and experience, there was a point to prove. “He had some pressure, he’s a proud guy, he didn’t want to disappoint people.”
No worries there, Arsene. So much for the legacy being tarnished. Or for Henry being over the hill. There was an inevitability about him scoring. Arsenal’s tepid performance in an otherwise ordinary cup tie had provided the perfect stage for one of the leading men of the club’s history to steal the show.
At the end, Henry looked to the heavens, closed his eyes and punched the air before running over the bench to thank Tony Colbert, the Arsenal fitness coach who had played such a big role in getting the Frenchman back into peak condition during the MLS off-season.
It was Henry’s moment and he lapped up the adulation of the Arsenal worshippers. On a famous evening in N5 one of the Invincibles added to his bronzed immortality.