Thierry Henry signed for Arsenal from Juventus twenty years ago – and our club, the Premier League and every single Gooner have never been the same since.
Fresh from a victorious World Cup campaign with France, Henry was lured to join the Gunners after a chance flight that saw him share with none other than his former coach and the Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger.
The rest isn’t just history, it is ingrained on our consciousness and it leaves us all with the same thought;
Can’t we rewind time to the moment he signed, so I could truly appreciate him in our shirt?
Of course, we all adored him, and it was easy to see why. But hindsight is ever the powerful and redundant tool, and we hark back to when he was in his pomp, in the red and white. And when we do, we realise that we had a footballing immortal in our midst.
The argument over not only the greatest Premier League import, but the greatest Premier League era player rumbles on continuously and Thierry is rightfully mentioned in those verbal tussles. But if we look at the rivals for the crown, we see that they all possessed something special, but Henry had it all.
When Le King started out with us, sans crown, the leading lights of the competition were the likes of Zola, Andy Cole, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Vialli.
All incredible goalscorers. Some had the ability to ghost into the box and find the perfect spot, some had the ability to always know where the keeper was and thus have the advantage. Others had rapier speed. A few could boast an incredible touch, outwitting their marker with a swish of their boot.
Thierry Henry had all of that and then some.
There was a period between 2002-05 where Henry truly was the greatest player on this planet. Goals rained down in the Premiership, Champions League, FA Cup, internationals. All spewing forth from the brain of Thierry. Left foot, right foot, even the occasional headed goal (the sole weakness of the player), he rained terror upon defenders who simply couldn’t deal with the arsenal that Henry possessed.
He could burn them with pace. If he came up against a defender who could keep up with him, he would use movement to beguile him. If the opposing number was a good man-marker, then his physical strength could give him the edge to find half a yard.
It also helped that he could score from any area of the pitch.
During our Invincibles season, there were moments that took the breath from your lungs. He gave us instances that had no parallel. His four goals versus Leeds, at one point he outpaced the entire backline so convincingly but with what appeared to be very little effort – his run looked like it was on ice, such was the silkiness of his gate.
His goal that changed the game versus Liverpool – y’know the one, where Carragher was so badly confused with Henry’s movement that he twisted himself into a heap? – was done with a touch that had no equal – bar Bergkamp – and all processed while he was running faster than anyone on the pitch.
We have a lot to thank Henry for, but the fact he played his best years in our shirt when he could have gone anywhere, that makes it all the more special. He loves the club, and the statue outside the ground is fitting tribute to what he achieved.
He missed out on the Ballon D’Or during his career, but twice finished inside the Top3. He would certainly have deserved it had he won during his best years, but looking back on his time at Arsenal, his legacy isn’t tarnished by not winning it.
His legacy is that he is the benchmark that all strikers are held up against now. Aguero’s goal ratio is incredible, but has he done it with the style of Henry, from all corners of the pitch? Kane is prolific, but has he scored 20+ goals for five consecutive seasons? Auba is fast, but is he ‘Henry’ fast?
The game is inexorably different to the one pre-Titi.
Much like former Sky man Andy Gray gasped during yet another Henry goal:
“I’ve seen most things in this league in the last twenty five years. I haven’t seen anything like him. I said at the beginning of the game that he is special. He’s more than that – he is irreplaceable.”
How right he was.
Twenty years has passed since Henry joined, and we now have the most incredible showreel in all of our minds.
Every club has its heroes, and invariably, those that live longer in the memory are those that grabbed goals.
Lots of them.
Strikers are the glory-getters. The successful ones will forever live on with a golden hue tinging every montage that is on a reel in supporters minds. Strikers always hold a special place amongst fans.
Arsenal in the last three decades have enjoyed a glittering blessing from deities that have bestowed a shedload of goals upon Gooners. The rollcall is not only a who’s-who of top flight attacking – it is the equivalent of the Hollywood Boulevard paved with stars.
Alan Smith. Ian Wright. Nicolas Anelka. Thierry Henry. Robin Van Persie.
The names above make the boots of whomever is chosen to wear them, a little harder to wear.
We as fans, have been spoiled. We now want our strikers to continue this miraculous tradition, and any who fall short are immediately resigned to a lesser status. We are still able to recognise their strengths, but they will never measure up unless their exploits match up to our heroes of old.
So Olivier Giroud had one hell of a job when he joined from Ligue Un winning Montpellier in 2013.
The hirsute Frenchman has been castigated by pundits, journalists and even our own fans for his unique brand of histrionics on the pitch and sometimes, for being just too damn handsome – like it makes his game a little weaker because he takes time on his appearance.
Numbers do not lie though, so let us see how Giroud measures up.
In total goals for the club, the bearded one falls short of course. Olivier has grabbed 69 goals thus far in 164 outings in a Gunners shirt. Alan Smith had a haul of 86 goals in 264 apps, Robin Van Persie had 96 goals in 194 outings, Ian Wright smashed 128 goals in 221 games and King Thierry a breathtaking 174 goals in just 254 games. Only Nicolas Anelka scored less, with 23 goals in 65 games.
All of these players had differing durations at the club though. Of course their goal total will be affected by longevity, so the real stat worth poring over is goals per game, right?
A goal every 2.37 games for Giroud so far, compared to 3.07 for Smudge, 2.82 for Anelka, 2.02 for RVP, 1.72 for Wrighty and 1.46 for Titi.
So Giroud’s exploits so far hold up well against the strikers who helped forge the club in its current image.
Giroud still falls short though. Despite his higher amount of substitute appearances than the rest, despite the fact he had the best efficiency rating in the Premier League last season – Giroud is still found to be craning his neck up to the heavens when he looks at the strikers who came before him.
Giroud is hampered by the fact he has never broken the 20-goal barrier in a PL season as well. That level is the unspoken barometer when gauging what makes a complete striker, and as Olivier has never breached it, he has often been maligned.
What is often overlooked though, is his hold-up play, his awareness for his teammates, his front-post prowess. Giroud in many respects is one of the best in what he does.
Until Giroud manages to be a major part of a side that wins the league though, or a side that challenges seriously at the very least, he will forever be in the bracket that lies below the true greats. It is only in the deepest heat that diamonds are created, and the ones who came before Giroud either lifted trophies regularly or their goals held the rest of the team up a la RVP.
Giroud is a fine striker, and one that we should attempt to retain the services of. He can get to 100 goals for the club in the near future and that will push him a few inches nearer to Gunners immortality – but he still has some way to go to stand alongside Smudge, Wrighty and Thierry.
Win a title, keep doing what he has done since he joined. He will always be fondly remembered, but the word ‘legend’ is bandied around far too liberally and has lost its impact a little.
There are images and thoughts in your head that rarely become tangible. Those things that you stow away for when you’re having a particularly rough day, that lift the gloom.
Well, meeting Thierry Henry has always been one of mine. It sounds corny to use the word ‘dream,’ but it’s as close as I can get.
Much like every other Gooner, I have probably seen every minute of his beautiful career with our club. He is cast in bronze outside our stadium for good reason. To actually meet him though?
To do this tale of supreme Fanboy-ism justice, I must start at the beginning….
I have been plaguing Lee Dixon – another Gunners icon – with tweets. Desperate as I am to incorporate him in my project, I have tweeted him repeatedly, but to no avail.
Step forward the owner of Piebury Corner – Paul. He noticed my plight and said that the former Number2 had made an appearance in the restuarant recently and he could introduce me to him if I turned up to an event.
I was as good as there.
I booked my ticket, and was then told that another guest would be making an appearance.
Be still my overworked brain! As soon as the name was mentioned, I was a wreck, but I remained rational until I set foot on the DLR to make my way to the night.
Once in the train, my own personal highlights reel of Henry moments ran through my head.
His goal against United that looped over Barthez, his four goal demolition of Leeds United, when Jamie Carragher attempted to stop him and ended up as twisted as a pretzel……
I calmed myself by remembering previous events I had been to, where the headline act had pulled out inexplicably. This would surely happen again, Thierry must be overloaded with work…
I made my way to the venue – the Park Theatre near Finsbury Park – and stood outside. I waited for the stars to arrive like a pitiful autograph hunter, but I wasn’t ashamed. I just adored these men who had given me so much joy, and I dearly wanted to thank them. As I smoked what must have been my third cigarette in about fifteen minutes, I spied Tom Watts – perennial Arsenal host – lugging audio equipment into the theatre.
Not the best time to say hello, so I peered inside, where the ground floor bar was located. Standing at the bar, was none other than one part of the finest defence ever to grace these shores. Lee Dixon.
He was surrounded by people, and it was the wrong time to approach him, marker pen in hand, asking for an autograph, so I chose to keep my distance and gaze from afar, waiting for the prime moment to make my move.
It never came, so I made my way upstairs to where Piebury Paul was spinning some excellent tunes on the decks. I propped myself up at the bar and ordered a whisky. Then, Lee made his way up the stairs.
Once again though, I was foiled in my attempts to fawn over a Gunner, as he was ensconced in conversation as he walked past me, with none other than Le King.
They made their way to the corner of the room, and were untroubled as they remained in conversation. It was clear that this once again wasthe wrong time to approach them with my gushing sentiments, so I stayed in place, content to look from a distance at the men who have never been closer than they were at this moment.
Time slipped by as I watched them, and it bordered into creepy territory but I couldn’t look anywhere else. The doors to the theatre room opened and we all made our way down the stairs. The room to which we all would be treated to Thierry Henry and Lee Dixon soundbites was comfortable, open, and small enough to invite feelings of exclusive conversation. It felt as if we were having a house party, sans loud music and alcohol, but two of the guests were so captivating that everyone crowded around to hear their stories.
Tom Watt, master of ceremonies, took to the stage, to introduce the former players, and then, Lee Dixon’s wife, Yolande, was invited in front of the audience to explain the reason why this event is taking place – which is Yorke Dance Project.
Soon, the Thierry stories were flowing, from his World Cup win, to his inauspicious beginnings at Arsenal, interjected by Lee to great effect. Of particular resonance was when Thierry credited not only Arsene Wenger, but the core group of English players, such as Keown, Dixon and Adams, for helping him become the player he went on to be.
Thierry was inevitably charming, but what really became apparent was his love for the club. He credits his comeback goal against Leeds United as his favourite goal as it was the only time he was able to “score a goal as a fan” and when speaking about the club, he sheds his media shield and his tone changes. It is him speaking from the heart, and everyone was hanging on his every word.
Lee spoke of his punditry work with Roy Keane to great hilarity, and was abundantly clear was the rapport between the two men. Born in different countries yet they share a common strand within themselves, and the respect between the two is born from the time they taught each other valuable lessons.
Ninety minutes passed quickly, and it was quickly wrapped up, so the crowd funnelled through the doors and up the stairs for a pie and a drink. I shuffled towards the stairs, my mind whizzing through the different anecdotes I had just shared with the men on stage, and also from being so close to them! As I struggled to the stairs, I looked to the top of them, and Thierry was swamped by the crowd as he signed autographs and posed for endless photos.
I managed to get to the summit, but the hubbub around Henry was manic. I was going to patiently wait for my slice of Thierry time, but I was at the top of the stairs and my frame was blocking people keen to get a pie. I sloped off, worrying that my chance may be slipping away to bathe in the glory of the King – and show him my Thierry Henry branded socks….
I took solace in my pie, which was obviously a Thierry Henry, and spoke at length to Paul, who was again presiding over music.
Whilst the music was pumping, I went over my newly revised gameplan. I would wait ten minutes for the crowd downstairs to dissipate, then I would swoop in for my moment with the King. Then, I would ruthlessly seek out Lee and tell him why his contribution is so important.
I polished off my pie, downed the remains of my second whisky, and made my move. As I went down the flight of steps, the previously packed room was ominously empty.
Panic rose through my stomach like an icy eel, and I took the second flight of stairs two at a time (not a big deal to the average male, but I’m closer to a hobbit than an average man). I headed straight for the exit, and Thierry was there, saying his final farewells……
DJ Spoony was responsible for all the audio equipment for this special gig, and he was saying goodbye to Henry, whose cab was waiting. There were a few other chaps involved in the conversation, but no needy fans harrassing him – aside from me.
I would never forgive myself if I had let this chance slip, so I had to let go of my polite sensibilities and thrust myself into their proceedings. I did this by inching ever closer, so close that it was impossible for them to ignore my large melon creeping into their eyeline.
Bless DJ Spoony, he was the man who acknowledged my crazed presence, and told Thierry that I wanted to say hello. For this Spoony, I thank you. This is where the story really pays off….
Thierry turned ninety degrees. Despite his cab running and him quite obviosuly having other things to do, he looked at me, smiled and offered his hand. I grabbed it like it was the last piece of chicken in the bucket, but I managed to remain dignified when I shook it – apart from the fact that I didn’t let his hand go…..
I spoke to him. These were the words I uttered:
“Thierry, you are a hero of mine. I want to say thank you for what you did for our club, it means so much.”
Then, Thierry managed to shake off my clinging grasp, and put his now free hand to his heart, whilst simultaneously saying “thank you for this.”
I watched him enter his cab, and then as the vehicle left the scene, much like a farewell in a big screen movie – at least in my head. I smoked a cigarette to calm my nerves, and then began to hunt for my raison d’etre – Lee Dixon.
He was on the ground floor, and again it was DJ Spoony who enabled me to speak to Lee. I told him of my book and that I would love his experiences within the pages, and he agreed to give me his words.
I grabbed a photo with him, and then made my way upstairs. Mission accomplished. The rest of the night went well, and I met some great people, but it was Thierry and Lee that will remain ingrained on my memory.
The journey home was a blur, and the highlights reel that runs in my mind of Henry’s greatest exploits, now has a fantastic ending, when I met him.
His bronze-set form sits outside the Emirates as a constant reminder of his record with us, but Gooners don’t need a reminder. Meeting him was just as good as I had envisioned – but it could have been perfect……
The recent furore surrounding Thierry Henry’s departure from Arsenal’s coaching setup has divided opinion in the media and for Gooners too.
Considered by many to be Arsenal’s finest player to have graced the Premier League, Henry’s decision to continue with his media work instead of his coaching role with the Gunners youth has seen much vitriol aimed at the man cast in bronze outside of The Emirates.
Conscious of the backlash his choice would cause amongst the fans who adore him, the man that fans know as ‘Le King’ made a statement outlining his reasons why he chose his role at Sky Sports over earning experience at coaching level at London Colney.
Whether people believe he prioritised lucre, or he believed the confliction between his roles would undermine his work in both positions is besides the point. What has been highlighted is that the bunch of promising youngsters that course through the Academy at London Colney would have benefitted hugely from the sage words and experience only a world class player could have given them.
Step forward Freddie Ljungberg.
The beloved red hair may be shorn, but those cheekbones cannot be disguised. The super Swede is rumoured to be the replacement for the departed Frenchman, and his expertise, knowledge – and most importantly enthusiasm for the job – can boost the kids he will potentially take under his beautiful wing.
With a plethora of former heroes to call upon, it was only fitting that the club bring in someone who has not only bought the t-shirt, but the whole ensemble.
International experience, battle scars from Europe and so many seasons at the pinnacle of domestic competition put Freddie in pole position to pass down knowledge which benefits a whole generation.
Ljungberg is in the process of earning his coaching badges, which is a path that will lead to professional management. He has started this journey at the club who gave him the perfect platform as a player to make the most of his talents.
Who can forget his goalscoring run which saw us over the finishing line in 2002? Aided by the golden touch of a certain Iceman, the super Swede’s unerring accuracy was the difference in the home straight of a magnificent Double campaign.
Mostly, it was his cerebral movement which allowed him to ghost into the box at the exact moment. An attacking facet which takes many players years to hone, but Freddie could almost smell the opportunity before it arose.
It is these talents which he can help chisel from the rough diamonds he will be in charge of.
His winning mentality though, will be chief among reasons why this potential hiring is a masterstroke.
His trophy haul speaks of a man who will not take anything less than 100%. If he can successfully burn this into every one of his students consciousness, then he could well be readymade for a managerial role.
We love you Freddie, because you’ve got no hair, but also, because you’re a winner.
Seeing as Thierry Henry chose the age of social networking to display his fine wares on the football pitch – most will claim to be aware of his story. Truth be told though, little is known of the true origin of perhaps the greatest player to ever don the Cannon jersey.
I delved deep with a team of researchers and a Value Multi-Pack of RedBull and we went to work unearthing the past of the man we all call ‘Le King’.
I give you the Unknown History of Thierry Henry.
Born in one of the many suburbs of Paris in 1977, his father showed little interest in his birth and presence. His father – Antoine – was part of a fledgling group who were the flagbearers for the initial ‘Minimalist Earth Lovers’ Party, whose manifesto was to spread love throughout the world, but without actually doing anything. Most of his days were spent at the mouthpiece of a bong and watching Mexican Midget Wrestling. Continue reading Unknown History 2 – Thierry Henry→
Thierry Henry’s residence in the Sky Sports studio was originally met with optimism within the Gooner network. Amidst the stale diatribes of Graeme Souness, the obtuse observations of Jamie Redknapp and the poor enunciation of Jamie
Carragher – the world of punditry wasn’t blessed with likeable or agreeable personalities.
We won’t even mention BT Sports woeful lineup nor Match of the Days insistence on using Danny Murphy who has less charisma than a politicians Facebook page. The reality is, the strange and skewed world of punditry has a very low barometer when it comes to the grade they have to make.