Gunners fans grow misty eyed in reminiscing about the stars of yesteryear. Legendary players like Peter Storey, Frank Stapleton, Liam Brady, Frank McLintock, Pat Jennings, Charlie George, Dennis Bergkamp and, not to forget, Tony Adams have all been lucky enough to stroll through the hallowed marble halls of Highbury.
As brilliant as they were, none can hold a candle to the majesty that was Thierry Henry.
The Frenchman is rightly hailed as one of the best players to have ever played the game, kicked a ball in anger or caressed a ball with such precision and delicateness that it soared into the back of the net as if carried by magic.
He features on the top of every poll concerning Arsenal's greatest-ever players.
In 2008, he was voted by the Gunners' fans as being Arsenal's all-time best player. In 2009, the Daily Mail placed him as the best ever player to play for either Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal. He featured as the best ever Arsenal player on Bleacher Report in 2011 and again in Charlie Melman's most excellent "10 Most Popular Players in Arsenal's History."
During his eight mesmeric seasons with the Gunners, Thierry Henry won every almost domestic trophy available, and only the Champions League and League Cup were denied him while an Arsenal player.
Henry won the Premier League twice, in 2001–02 and 2003–04, the FA Cup three times, in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and the FA Community Shield twice in 2002 and 2004. In 2006 he finally got to a Champions League final with Arsenal, but lost out to Barcelona after Jens Lehman was controversially sent off.
During the same seven-year period he also enjoyed great success with France on the international stage, winning the European Championships in 2000 and finishing as runner-up in the World Cup in 2006. He also played a major role in France winning the World Cup in 1998.
At an individual level he won just about every trophy imaginable to add to his record of being Arsenal's top scorer of all time with 226.
In short, Thierry Henry was a phenomenal player.
Henry was primarily used as a left-sided forward by Monaco. He played a major role in France's trek to the quarterfinals in the Under-20 World Cup in Malaysia in 1997. One year later and he was a surprise inclusion in the France squad for the World Cup.
The then-20-year-old was superb for Aime Jacquet's team and scored three times in six games as France won the World Cup for the first time. As a result, Juventus signed him and brought him to Serie A.
His stay in Serie A was unpleasant to say the least. Henry played just 16 times for the Old Lady. He was largely ineffective and scored just three goals before he was shipped off as a failure to Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger knew Henry through his scouting network and his connections with Monaco. Le Prof had left the Principality in 1994, the very year Henry signed as a teenager. Le Prof also had experience of high-class players not adapting to Serie A but excelling in the Premier League.
Dennis Bergkamp was a huge star with Ajax and Holland, but endured a torrid two seasons with Inter Milan where he only scored 11 goals from 52 matches. In 1999, Bergkamp was about to enter the most productive phase of his incredible career, and Wenger needed the perfect foil to achieve this.
In time Thierry Henry would be the perfect foil for Dennis Bergkamp as Bergkamp would be for Henry.
However, initially, the move to Arsenal proved almost disastrous.
Henry was bereft of confidence after his sojourn in Turin and literally could not hit the side of a barn when he signed. His wayward shooting became something of a joke for even Arsenal fans, and it was no surprise to see the Frenchman score only two goals from his first 17 games.
Wenger was perplexed on what to do with his striker. Henry was his first major signing, and his reputation was on the line with the English media and the Arsenal board. To get the best out of Henry he decided to change to a counter-attacking-style team. Bergkamp began to drop deep to help in midfield as Henry started taking up a berth closer to the wing.
On the training ground Arsenal then practiced the same counter-attacking move over and over again, often for hours at a time. The Arsenal had one of the most experienced defences in the league and had an incredibly hard-working and swift midfield. Midfield dropped deep to help the defence, Bergkamp dropped into the hole between midfield and attack and Henry began to drift wide.
When this situation arose, each and every Arsenal player were given explicit instructions to find Henry as quickly as possible. In this position the Frenchman could then use his super pace and superior technique to isolate and exploit defenders before either creating a chance or shooting on goal.
The tactic worked perfectly, and from only scoring twice in his first 17 matches Henry went on to score 29 goals in his next 30 matches for club and country in the 1999-00 season.
A star had truly been born.
That was his first season with the Gunners, and within a couple of years he was easily the best striker on the planet. Arsenal's fans and Arsene Wenger had been rewarded for their patience with the youngster; with confidence brimming he started showing his full incredible array of talents.
Over the coming seasons Henry went on to show the world what he was capable of. He was a consummate professional on and off the pitch and it was no surprise to see him go on to captain the club he loved.
Whether he was dribbling with rapier-like speed through a forest of legs, unleashing a thunderbolt from 30 yards or lifting the ball over an advancing 'keeper with the deftest of touches, Thierry Henry could do it all.
He was the catalyst for all that was good about Arsenal after the 1998 league and cup double. Henry inspired the Gunners to the Double-Double in 2002, and who can forget the Invincibles in 2004?
Whilst his achievements are many, Thierry Henry's crowning glory at club level was in guiding Arsenal to the league title in 2004 after going the entire season unbeaten.
Henry scored a miraculous 39 goals in 51 games in all competitions and claimed the European Golden Boot for being Europe's top goal-scorer. He would claim the prize again the following season.
When Henry was playing in that famous red shirt with white arms he played with a certain style, a joie de vivre if you will. Never without a smile on his face, King Henry had the ability to beat defenders in a multitude of ways. Ultra-professional, he never let the occasion get to him and he always led by example on the pitch.
He played in the timeless style of the greats who learned their trade on the back streets. Henry was clever, resourceful, intelligent, deceptively strong, extremely skillful and Olympic-sprinter quick. As a striker he was the whole package—and above all he played with a smile on his face that belied the joy all fans want to feel in the men they are supporting.
That love was reciprocal; Henry loved the fans as they loved him.
This unbridled glee to be enjoying his profession whilst playing in a style that was loved by millions, not just Arsenal's fans, is one of the main reasons Henry is loved so much.
Henry was still Arsenal's main striker when he left the club for Barcelona in the summer of 2007. It was a strange time for the Gunners' fans. The club was obviously on the slide after that Invincible season in 2004, and now their star striker was leaving the sinking ship.
To their credit Arsenal's fans did not protest too much. The intelligent majority recognized Henry's amazing eight-year contribution, and like the song says, "If you love somebody set them free."
Thierry Henry joined Barcelona on June 23, 2007, and the love affair was officially over.
In eight glorious years he had set records and won almost everything. He scored 226 goals in 369 games, including an unbelievable run of five seasons in a row of 30-plus goals. Quite simply Thierry Henry is the greatest goal-scorer the Premier League has ever seen, maybe even English football. He might even be English football's best player of all time.
At Barcelona he was a moderate success. He showed his style and skill in flashes, but nothing like what Arsenal fans had seen. He did win the one trophy that had eluded him. In 2009, Barca hammered Manchester United in what must have seemed like poetic justice for all the millions of Arsenal fans that urged him on.
He lasted one more year at Barca before the MLS came calling.
By now his legendary pace had left him, but he was still the ultimate professional. This is the main reason Arsene Wenger came back looking for his old prodigy in January 2012 when Henry signed on for a short-term loan period.
It was the fitting end to a phenomenal love affair with Arsenal fans. The club and Arsene Wenger deserve huge credit for bringing their most celebrated player back in their celebratory 125th season.
He only played in four league games and scored the winning goal in his last game. However, his cameo gave Arsenal's fans the chance to say goodbye and thanks to the man who helped define good football.
In 2011, Arsenal unveiled a statue of the star. Henry, as you would imagine, was moved to tears.
Fighting back the tears he said, "I'm showing emotion right now for the club that I love. I'm more than proud – honoured, privileged." (via the Guardian)
Now he knows how Arsenal fans feel about him.
Statistics provided by www.fifa.com, www.soccerbase.com and www.premierleague.com.
You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon
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