Ask any Arsenal fan who they think is the best player to pull on the red and white and you will always get the same answers; Ian Wright, Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp, Nic Bendtner (no? Just me then). Speak to the slightly older generation and you will get names like Liam Brady, Alan Ball and of course the local boy Charlie George. But there is one name that you will hear more than all of the others put together and that name is one Thierry Henry. And this weekend he is back at his spiritual home as his New York red Bulls take part in the Emirates Cup.
The mecurial Frenchman joined the gunners as a world cup winner in 1999 for what seemed like a costly £11 million from Juventus where he had hardly set the world alight playing on the left wing, but Arsene Wenger, who had worked with the youngster at Monaco knew that there was a talent there just waiting to burst out. Wengers first move was to switch Henry from the wing to thee middle, playing him at centre forward. Although he didnt immediatly settle in to his new role, taking eight games to score his first goal, he finished the season with an impressive total of 26, and then went on to lift the European Championship in the summer of 2000.
|Thierry Henry in typical celebratory mode|
There was success again in the following season, another 32 goals and another FA cup winners medal, as well as the man of the match award for the final victory over Southampton. He was also named PFA and football writers footballer of the year, and came second in the FIFA player of the year competition.
Having missed out on the league title the previous year, Arsenal were determined to regain their crown from current champions Manchester United, and Thierry Henry led them to that title in style; 38 games played 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 defeats. Perhaps his finest hour, being one of the invincibles, going the entire league season undefeated, the first team to do so in the modern era and the first for more than a century. The Frenchman was instrumental, with 39 goals in all competitions. Another stellar season.
Henry didnt win any more honours with the gunners, missing the final victory in 2005. He was also a part of the side that agonisingly lost in the 2006 champions league final against Barcalona, even missing a one-on-one when Arsenal were already 1-0 up in his home capital.
Although he may not have won any more medals with Arsenal, he did go on to achieve more personal honours. He surpassed Ian Wright's record of 185 goals with his brace against Sparta Prague and he broke Cliff Bastin's record of 151 league goals. He scored also fittingly scored the last ever goal at Highbury and in true Henry style it was the final goal of his hat trick against Wigan. He departed Arsenal for Barcalona in the summer of 2007, perhaps the only club he could have joined in terms of footballing capability.
So why is Thierry Henry such a legend to gonners? Simple. The goals the man scored where phenomenal. his flick and volley against Manchester United, his mazy dribbles against Tottenham and Liverpool, his swerving piledriver against West Ham, I could go on and on and on. But not just the goals. He had such class, and air of grace, he came across as a true gentleman. He completley endeared himself to gunners fans and in turn, they all loved him back. He was also funny. Who could forget him instructing a young Cesc Fabregas to respond "yes", when in an interview he was asked "was it a penalty?". I think it is safe to say that every Arsenal fan would take him back in a heart beat.
So it is with bated breath that i will be taking my seat at the Emirates stadium this sunday, the 31st of July. For when the announcer reads out the teams for Arsenal vs New York Red Bulls, and he says the name "Thierry", I will be shouting "HENRY" louder than any other of the 60,000 fans, and then I will; cheer myself hoarse and clap my hands raw, for there is only one, and will only ever be one, Thierry Henry.