With the news that Didier Drogba has returned to Chelsea, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for wondering if there might still be time for one more homecoming for Thierry Henry. However, the fantasy should remain precisely that: While Henry the legend will be adored long in to the future, Henry the player belongs to Arsenal’s past.
The Frenchman lined up against his beloved Gunners for his current club, the New York Red Bulls, on Saturday. Prior to the game, Arsene Wenger had jokingly expressed a desire to The Daily Mail to see Henry wear Arsenal colours in the second half.
Sadly for supporters across the globe, the moment did not come to pass. Instead, Henry emerged for the second period playing for the Red Bulls, before leaving to a standing ovation from both sets of fans.
It may prove to be the best way to have said goodbye. Henry’s Arsenal love affair has already been so perfect, it’d be a shame to make unnecessary revisions to a fairy-tale story.
It’s not that he’s lost any of his natural ability. For the first half of the game, Henry was the best player on the pitch. Perhaps spurred on by the presence of his former club and a watching global audience, Henry rolled back the years.
Against an Arsenal team lacking match sharpness, Henry was able to accelerate away from defenders with the graceful ease of yesteryear. Had it not been for some intelligent shot-stopping from Wojciech Szczesny, he might even have opened the scoring with a typical placed finish.
This was vintage Henry. His display seemed to be proof that there is a certain class which age cannot diminish. Arsenal fans will even have recognised the insouciant pout, as well as the fierce glare directed at any team-mates whose passes were not deemed up to scratch.
However, it’s important to take note of the context. Henry was playing against an Arsenal side relatively early in their pre-season preparation. What’s more, he did not face a first-choice defence: A makeshift centre-back pairing of Isaac Hayden and Nacho Monreal is far from watertight.
Henry would probably admit himself that he could not regularly sustain that level of performance in the Premier League. He is approaching the end of a glorious career and exposing himself to the physicality of English football at this stage would surely be unwise.
Henry’s Arsenal story has already had the perfect ending. His brief return on loan in 2012 could not have gone much better. Not only did he score on his "second debut" against Leeds United, but he also netted a vital goal in his final Premier League match against Sunderland. His legacy could never be damaged, but it’d be a shame to jeopardise what was a fantastic farewell.
It would be unnecessary, too. In reality, Arsenal no longer need Henry. Having recruited Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners have already added a player whose skill and pace are comparable with Henry in his prime. Sanchez may even emulate Henry’s fabled transition from wide man to centre-forward.
Henry is a huge figure in Arsenal’s history. However, as a player, that is where he ought to remain.