Why Thierry Henry Is the Most Popular Arsenal Player Ever
Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Charlie George—through the years Arsenal have boasted a wealth of legendary players.
But of all the notable names, Thierry Henry must stand out as the most enduringly popular.
This was confirmed by the results of Arsenal's 2008 poll on the club website, in which the club asked fans for their 50 Greatest Players.
Greatest doesn't always translate directly to most popular—though polls like this one always reflect the inevitable bias of popularity—and vice versa.
But Henry has a more than credible claim for both. What particular blend of attributes makes the Frenchman the most popular Arsenal player of all time?
While there are some players who inspire devotion and may reach cult status in the absence of significant individual achievement—Perry Groves springs to mind—the first requisite for mass popularity is success.
Henry is one of Arsenal's foremost winners. He arrived at Highbury a World Cup champion, and he departed eight years later with two Premier League medals, three FA Cups and numerous individual honours, including becoming the club's all-time leading goalscorer (as well as adding a European Championship to his international CV).
During that spell, Henry featured critically in both the Double-winning side of 2001-02 and the legendary Invincibles of 2003-04.
His winning ethos made his eventual transfer to Barcelona in 2007 marginally more palatable to Arsenal fans who could empathise with his frustration at the club's incipient trophy drought.
Henry didn't just win, he did it in style.
Supplementing his natural pace and power with a bewildering array of skills, trickery and inimitable movement, Henry must go down as one of the most entertaining players to grace not just Arsenal, but the Premier League.
Spectacular goals were his stock in trade (as they continue to be at New York Red Bulls), and anyone putting together an Henry highlight reel is ludicrously spoilt for choice.
As someone like perhaps a Nicolas Anelka could attest, winners' medals and abundant style aren't always enough to nail the popularity stakes. A certain likeability is also needed.
Henry sometimes stretched his to the limits—at times, a certain negative aura could infect his games, rendering him both less effective and certainly less delightful—but in general his demeanour has always marked him out as one of football's more appealing characters.
The trademark infectious grin certainly helps, as does his tangible love of the game.
The deeper we get into the Premier League age, the more cynically fans come to view players' relationships with their clubs—with good reason, as that relationship increasingly resembles not just dispassionate employment, but sometimes blatantly disinterested temp work.
The perfect fan favourite in this respect is someone like Tony Adams, a local boy and one-club man.
Commitment to and love for Arsenal could be seen as Henry's weakest selling point, considering he neither started nor ended his career there, and the Barcelona move was preceded by a long, distasteful and barely concealed flirtation.
But few could disbelieve the man when he looked into the camera at his farewell interview with ArsenalTV and told the fans: "Arsenal will always be in my blood and in my heart."
Which 2012-13 player is most likely to achieve legend status at Arsenal?
Henry's brief return on loan from Red Bulls in 2011-12 confirmed his commitment to and deep affection for the club and signalled the likelihood that some future role remains for Henry at Arsenal.
Apart from an emotional connection to the club, another reason fans love homegrown talent is the pride in seeing a player moulded by their team and watching his improvement.
Despite joining Arsenal at the relatively advanced age of 22, Henry still fits the bill in terms of development, partly due to his early spell under Arsene Wenger at Monaco and partly due to the meteoric improvement to his game while at Arsenal.
Henry's conversion from lacklustre winger brought from Juventus to sensational striker is one of the sport's most lauded transformations, and it put the definitive Arsenal stamp on his career.
All of these attributes and more—his class, his coolness, his eminently chantable name—combine to make Thierry Henry Arsenal's most popular player: the King of Highbury, as well as the bridge to Arsenal's future as his statue watches over Ashburton Grove.
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