If we rewind back a decade this summer, Arsenal fans will remember one of the most heartbreaking transfers in the club’s history. Not Jérémie Aliadière to Middlesbrough, but Thierry Henry moving to Barcelona.
Only a year after moving into our new home and we were given what we may have thought was the worst house warming present. Our record goal scorer who fans will forever love as part of the club was leaving. Who could even imagine what Arsenal would be without him out him at the time, despite him suffering from a few injuries late in that spell at the club?
In his absence, the Emirates saw strikers like Eduardo Da Silva, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin Van Persie try to fill the Frenchman’s boots. They were all very good during their times at the club respectively but it’s fair to say it just wasn’t the same as when we had our number 14 terrorising the Premier League.
In that time Titi enjoyed a three-year spell at Barcelona where he won two La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, one Supercopa de Espana and who can forget the UEFA Champions League which he so painfully missed out on against Barca with Arsenal on that night in Paris in 2006. After brushing shoulders with greats like Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi and co. in Cataluña, Henry spent the final stages of his career in America with New York Red Bulls.
But somewhere in the middle of those four years in The Big Apple, there is a sweet spot for Arsenal fans. And no I’m not talking about the 2-1 Champions League triumph over Barcelona when Jack Wilshere ran the show. You may even think it would be the celebrations of Arsenal’s 125th birthday in 2011, very close, but not quite.
I’m talking about the unthinkable coming true, the return of the king. Probably the quickest and most appreciated January signing in the club’s history, which didn’t even involve a transfer fee. With Henry back training with Arsenal in the winter, which became a normality during his time in MLS football. We managed to bring the club legend back to N5 on a two-month loan.
Yes, it may seem like a short amount of time but it only took him ten minutes to reintroduce himself to the Arsenal faithful. Returning to The Emirates now with a statue outside the ground, there was only one way he could’ve announced his arrival on January 9th, 2012.
Now making his second debut against Leeds United in the 3rd Round of the F.A. Cup, the now bearded striker was probably a more well-known face around North London than when he made his first debut against as a substitute against Leicester way back in 1999. Coming on again as a sub, Henry was now sporting the number 12 as well as his new beard because of the one and only Theo Walcott occupying the 14 shirt at the time.
Henry came on with Walcott in the 68th minute replacing Marouane Chamakh with what probably has been the biggest roar the Emirates has produced over its 11 years. Now playing for the club he has gone on to say he supports, it didn’t take long for him to complete the dream return.
Within just ten minutes of him being on the pitch the ball was played to Alex Song in midfield, who at this point was reaching his peak in an Arsenal shirt, Song drove forward before hitting an inch perfect ball between the Leeds right back and centre back which found Henry who timed his run to perfection.
In true Henry fashion, he took one touch to manipulate the ball and then finessed the ball into the far corner with his right foot, an image that was almost constant during his first spell at Arsenal. Not only The Emirates but Henry himself erupted as he galloped down the touchline to hug a smiling Arsene Wenger before being met by Wojciech Szczesny in what has probably been the only celebration he’s been involved in.
The moment was captured with some truly unforgettable lines like “Henry, chance, goal” along with “he may be cast in bronze but he’s still capable of producing truly golden moments”. Which capped off a vintage Thierry Henry goal which could only bring back flashbacks at the time.
Some may say that the comeback goal was destined to happen when looking back with the number 12 being quite a dominant feature on the night. With the number 12 scoring his 12th goal against Leeds with 12 minutes of the match to go, as well as the year being 2012. So despite the recent debates it’s clear there is still a bit of magic in the F.A. Cup.
In the months after that night of magic, Henry made a few more Gunners appearances and managed to stretch his goal tally a bit further to 228. Sadly he had a goal ruled an own goal which prevented him from reaching 229.
That goal was in Arsenal’s 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers at The Emirates in February 2012. After a brace from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a Robin Van Persie hat-trick, Henry came on and in the 93rd minute stole the ball from a Blackburn defender in the centre circle before exchanging passes with Van Persie and having his shot deflect off Scott Dann and into the net.
In what would prove to be his last goal for Arsenal he helped in an Andrei Arshavin cross that came in from the left with a class first touch finish to make it 2-1 to Arsenal in a game where they surprisingly went 1-0 down after Per Mertesacker went ground with an injury gifting Sunderland the lead.
Looking back over the early months of 2012, Henry’s cameo was certainly one of the best parts out of Arsenal’s year, especially better than Van Persie’s summer move to Manchester United. But maybe with Henry learning his trade in management, he could return again one day, but for me, it’s a bit too early for that at the moment even with all the rumours.