“When he scored his first Arsenal goal — at Southampton — I ran over to him and told him how glad I was that I could tell my kids that I was playing the day Thierry Henry scored his first goal. He said I was crazy afterwards, but I had seen a special player and I made sure he knew that.” – Martin Keown
A true great
The most recent edition of Lazy GOAT’s looks at a player that can be placed in the ‘guaranteed’ pile of not just Arsenal but Premier League greats. All the superlatives that come to mind seem meaningless when trying to describe the artist that was Frenchman Thierry Daniel Henry.
Born In Les Ulis in France in 1977, he played for his first club aged five. 12 years later he signed a professional contract for A.S Monaco, making his debut 2 weeks after his 17th birthday.
A World Cup and European Championship winner; a Champions League, 2 Premier League and 3 FA Cup medals and 4 time PL Golden Boot winner are just some of the accolades the Frenchmen claimed during his illustrious career.
Hero to Zero
Henry’s professional career began with A.S Monaco in 1994/95 – scoring 3 goals in 5 appearances in Ligue 1. Henry progressed as a left-winger in the Principality, earning a place in the 1998 French World Cup winning squad of which he was the top scorer.
Due to his excellent performances that summer he sealed a £10.7mil to Italian giants Juventus in January 1999.
It turned out to be a difficult spell in Turin, with Henry only netting 3 times in 20 appearances. At 22, he struggled with the physicality and defensive nature of Serie A and after only 6 months he was transferred to North London.
Big shoes to fill
It was here he was reunited with his former coach at Monaco, Arsene Wenger in whom he had a mentor that believed in his abilities.
“I felt that when I watched him at Juventus that he had lost belief and confidence. I knew he was a very intelligent player and I would still have tried to sign him. Whether we would have had enough money, that is another question!” – Arsene Wenger
At the time ,Arsenal were in a predicament. ’97/98 saw success Arsenal fans hadn’t seen in a long time by winning the domestic double, but the year previous to Henry’s signing wasn’t to bring the same ecstasy for the club.
Defeat to Ryan Giggs’ wonder-goal in the FA Cup semi-final consequently led to Manchester United pipping the Gunners to the Premier League title by a single point. After Dennis Bergkamp’s missed penalty in stoppage time, Giggs’ goal gave United the confidence to go on and achieve success whilst simultaneously denting Arsenal’s. United went on to win the Premier League, FA Cup and European treble and North London was left empty handed.
To make matters worse, main-man Nicolas Anelka left for Real Madrid in the summer of ’99 and many were left scratching their heads as to how Arsenal could close the gap on the Red Devils. Having scored 17 goals in his final season in North London – how could Henry live up to the reputation of the previous frantic Frenchman to lead the line.
His debut season…? 17 Premier league goals.
Not bad going for someone who’s previous season shot his confidence.
His elegance, pace and power that were questioned after his stint with the ‘Old Lady’ were all there to be seen. Although still sometimes used out wide, Henry had to learn to make the adjustment to being a centre-forward and the tricks of the trade that came with it.
A star is born
The following season he matched his previous goal tally netting another 17 league goals.
After the departure of players like Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit (Barcelona) and Nigel Winterburn (West Ham United) – a threatening squad was being sculpted by the French mastermind at the helm. Signings like Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Lauren and Edu were more adapted to the free-flowing football Wenger was introducing to the Premier League.
Although the ’00/01 season brought no silverware again, there were promising signs for the Gooners. Bergkamp and Henry had established a telepathic connection upfront; the wide midfielders in Pires, Wiltord and Freddy Ljunberg saw bundles of talent as well as healthy competition and had a back four and captain in Patrick Viera they could depend on.
Roll on the next one. The ’01/02 season concluded with Arsenal as domestic double winners for the second time under Wenger and ensuring Henry’s first Premier League trophy. That fateful night at Old Trafford in those golden shirts will never leave the memories of fans to their beloved Arsenal.
Henry was now displaying the true credentials of a legend to be. His 24 goals grabbed him his first Golden Boot and went along way to securing top-spot.
Right foot, Left foot, heading, dribbling, tactical awareness, positioning were all attributes he now possessed and terrified opposition defences when they saw his name on the team sheet.
Another season and another 24 league goals saw Arsenal finish second and lift the FA Cup for Henry’s second after beating Southampton thanks to a simple finish from Robert Pires.
Arsenals domestic dominance grew and culminated with the ’03/04 ‘Invincibles’. Some football ‘fans’ point to the 12 draws during this season as some kind of negative – but Henry and co had established a mentality of champions which is something some supporters can’t say about their teams. These boys were going to win the league — and win it in style.
Henry finished the campaign with 30 goals and his second Golden Boot as well as awarded ‘Player of the Year’. This team was scintillating in the way they approached every game, adopting Wenger’s philosophy whilst playing with the individual guile that had come to be expected from Arsenal’s main man.
His plaudits weren’t just colleagues but opponents – and one’s he embarrassed a few times on the pitch.
“I’ve used this analogy before and I make no apology for using it again. When he hit top gear and ran past you, it was like trying to chase after someone on a motorbike. When Arsenal were ‘The Invincibles’ in the period between 2003-2004, Henry rivalled Ronaldinho as the best in the world. A great goal-scorer, not to mention a scorer of great goals, he is the finest player I have seen in the Premier League. His game didn’t have a weakness.” – Jamie Carragher
A further FA Cup success followed in ’04/05, before Arsenal’s disappointment in the 2006 Champions League Final, with Henry scooping another 52 goals and 2 Golden Boots.
It was also this season he eclipsed Ian Wright’s record as Arsenal’s highest goalscorer with 185 goals.
He saw out one season at the newly built ‘Emirates Stadium’ before completing a deserved move to Catalonian outfit, Barcelona, in 2007 for a mere £16.1 million.
Spending 3 years at the Nou Camp he lifted European club football’s biggest trophy as well as 2 La Liga’s.
Due to see out his career stateside after a move to New York Red Bulls in 2010, Henry’s book was not finished yet in North London. Two years later he returned for a short period during the MLS season break and displayed all the characteristics of the man who cemented a place as an Arsenal legend.
I was lucky enough to be there that night at the Emirates. 3rd round FA Cup tie against Leeds – a tie I’d spent my youth watching him dominate and the only word that can possibly do him justice is magical. Everything he touched on the pitch in a red and white shirt was simply magical.
Henry retired as Arsenal’s highest ever goalscorer with 228 goals in 377 games.
Forgotten the return of the king? Check out his return goal below and let us know if you agree with his place as Arsenal’s GOAT.
Check out more of our ‘Lazy GOAT’ series below: