Arsenal legend Henry marks his return to the club in the grandest manner by scoring the only goal as Gunners set up FA Cup fourth round tie against Villa
ARSENAL 1 vs LEEDS UNITED 0
ENRAPTURED Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted to being in dreamland after returning hero Thierry Henry scored the goal that booked their place in the FA Cup fourth round just eight minutes into his emotionally-charged comeback.
Henry, on loan from New York Red Bulls, reminded adoring Gunners fans how he racked up a club record 226 goals in 370 appearances with a 77th-minute strike that bore all his hallmarks: calm, elegance and ruthlessness.
The 34-year-old, who left the club in 2007, had climbed off the bench to make his second debut just moments earlier, and celebrated his Roy of the Rovers-style impact by sprinting up the touchline to embrace Wenger.
“It was a little bit like a dream. It was the story you would tell some young kids if you wanted to tell a story about football. It’s not often like that in our game, but sometimes it happens,” said the Gunner boss (inset), whose side will host Aston Villa in the fourth round.
“When he got in this position I thought, ‘Oh, that’s your angle, but it’s a bit too close’ – and that’s when he surprised me. He didn’t force the shot and still made it look easy. I thought it was a bit too much on the left, but he has that special finishing -- that was Thierry Henry finishing.”
Wenger revealed Henry’s loan deal is for a maximum of eight weeks, ruling out the possibility he could remain for the season, and insisted he could play alongside top scorer Robin van Persie -- but had not decided if he would against Swansea on Sunday.
“Robin will be back against Swansea,” added Wenger.
“Will Thierry start or not? I don’t know yet. He can play behind or in front of Robin or on the flank, Robin can play on the flank too, but I don’t know yet what I will do.”
The former France and Barcelona star, who only completed his move minutes before Friday’s deadline for this match, struggled to convey his emotions after a dream reunion.
“I came back from holiday 15 days ago,” said Henry. “I never thought I’d play for Arsenal again or score the winner. I really don’t know what to say – I love the club. Hopefully I can do more. I hope it won’t be the last one. The feeling I had when I scored was amazing.”
Henry’s electrifying cameo only cast Arsenal’s preceding struggle to pierce the Leeds defence in an even harsher light, with a tame Mikel Arteta shot saved by Andy Lonergan the most dangerous moment.
The visitors might even have snatched a draw were it not for Wojciech Szczesny’s reflexes, the Pole adroitly parrying substitute Mikkel Forssell’s sharp last-minute turn and shot -- but there was to be no denying Henry the limelight, 12 years and 155 days after his first Gunners debut.
What else could it be? Eight minutes after coming off the bench to an almighty roar, Henry conjured a trademark finish like he’d never been away, peeling off the defender, collecting Song’s pass, opening his body and stroking a measured finish into the far corner. Arsenal’s fans, and their favourite son, erupted.
It was probably written in the stars that would happen but that’s the class of Thierry Henry – he’s shown that so many times. How many times has he been in that position and bent one into the bottom corner? You always fear the worst when he comes on but I thought the team handled him pretty well. You just know he can do something out of nothing, and that’s why he’s the player he has been. I just wish he’d signed for Arsenal a few weeks ago and we might not have had all the furore that we have.
Leeds boss Simon Grayson
With one classy swing of his trusty right foot, Henry has shown he’s still got it, but that raises the question of what Wenger does with the club’s all-time leading goalscorer: play him in a wide left role, in place of Gervinho or the lethargic Arshavin, or alter the team’s shape to accommodate both him and Van Persie in central positions? Start him or keep him as an impact substitution? The options are varied and plenty – Wenger has until Sunday’s Premier League fixture at Swansea to decide.