I’m back again with another edition of ‘Arsenal’s greatest transfers’ after a week where the current transfer rumours have died down just a bit. This guy will probably the best-known player I’ll be writing about in this series. Similar to a player linked with us recently he hails from Monaco. Before moving to Arsenal though he had already won the World Cup, played over 100 games for Monaco and played in a Juventus shirt. I’d be pretty surprised if you haven’t guessed it by now but just in case, yes it is the legend that is Thierry Henry.
After losing Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid in the summer of 1999 a replacement was needed. Having worked with him before at Monaco, Arsene Wenger’s French Connection continued as he brought Henry in for £11m, not a bad price if you ask me.
Titi’s decision to come to Highbury at the time resulted in him winning 2 Premier Leagues (one of which being golden), 3 F.A. Cups (he didn’t play in the 04/05 final though) and 2 Community Shields if you count those. The move also saw him cement himself in Arsenal history by surpassing Ian Wright’s goalscoring record with 228 goals, which saw him win PFA Player of the Year twice, be named in the PFA Team of the Year 6 seasons in a row and win the Premier League Golden Boot four times (three of which were in a row), along with many other individual accolades.
Henry didn’t just bring pure footballing talent to England though as he almost revolutionised the style of what it was to be a footballer, making defenders and goalkeepers dance for fun while he did so. Bringing the Va Va Voom of the celebrations, the trademark winter gloves and his true embodiment of the club, he really was something else.
Henry also has something in common with the two player’s I’ve already written about in this series: Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright. Yes, all were amazing finishers but also, all three scored their first Arsenal goals against Southampton. Like Dennis Bergkamp, our at-the-time new number 14 did have to wait a while for his first goal, but oh it was worth the wait. Adjusting to life as a striker again he showed Juventus just what they were missing. After receiving a pass off Tony Adams, he pinned a Southampton defender before pushing the ball into space and smashing it past the Southampton keeper, running to the corner flag for that first trademark celebration. Since then, he never seemed to look back.
His debut season didn’t see any silverware but with 31 goals in all competitions, he did remove any doubt that was surrounding his transfer as well as any memories of Anelka. King Henry had arrived. After adding a EURO 2000 medal to his collection in the summer, Thierry didn’t have as much of a prolific season as his first but scoring 22 goals, this was in no way a bad season as he still produced great spectacles: sitting Marcel Desailly at Highbury, that hat trick vs Leicester as well as scoring in every round of the UEFA Cup to get us to the final that year.
Henry’s and Arsenal’s 2001/2002 season started just as they wanted as they would secure their first title and double since ’98, a 4-0 win away to Middlesbrough which saw Henry score a clinical volley. A week later he’d bag his 50th Gunners goal at Highbury against Leicester, which was followed by the shoulder shimmy. As well as winning the league at Old Trafford, Henry also embarrassed them at Highbury as he expertly capitalised on both mistakes made by Fabian Barthez in that game. Henry’s double winning campaign ended with 32 goals, 24 in the Premier League, as he picked up his first Golden Boot award.
Another season saw more goals as Henry boasted the exact same tally as last year but it was only good enough to secure an F.A. Cup winners medal. Notable goals from that season being that touch, swivel and BANG away at West Ham and that iconic goal against Tottenham, you know, the one his statue is based on, when he picks the ball up in his own half, obliterates their defence then runs the length of the pitch again for the best knee slide celebration of all time in front of the Spuds, yeah that one. His 4th season also saw him score his 100th Arsenal goal away at Birmingham City.
2003-04, what a season. Henry scoring a free kick in the Community Shield from God knows how far out kick-started an unforgettable year at Highbury, with the club going on to win the league unbeaten, it was a simply flawless year. Yet again, Henry was at the centre of the success, scoring 39 goals in all competitions, with all the respect in the world, just disgracefully unbelievable. That free kick against Charlton, that goal in the San Siro and when he made Jamie Carragher look like Bambi on ice, just to name a few. At that point, he was just a different animal to play against.
The next few seasons would see Arsenal start that famous decline of the trophy drought after winning the 2005 F.A. Cup final, but Henry was still on the mark. Scoring 30 in 2004-05 and 32 in 2005-06 he was still setting records and making memories for the Arsenal faithful. On the route to the Champions League final of 2006, Henry sprinkled in arguably his greatest moment in an Arsenal shirt. Away at Sparta Prague in the group stages, he became Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer with a brace, one of the goals truly majestic. In Highbury’s farewell season he also scored a crucial goal against Tottenham which, along with his final day hat-trick against Wigan, would see us qualify for the Champions League yet again.
After the disappointment of losing the Champions League final and World Cup final in 2006, Henry returned for his final full-length season at Arsenal. A season which would see him only score 14 times as he was out of the team due to injury for the large part. Despite this, there were still moments of brilliance that the fans just didn’t want to part ways with. Everybody thought that his last goal at the Emirates would be that last minute header against Manchester United, but thankfully it wasn’t.
The 2011-12 season saw the return of King Henry, who was now bearded. In true Thierry Henry fashion against Leeds in the F.A. Cup, he marked his return with a goal across the keeper into the far corner before running down the touchline, now scoring as an Arsenal fan. What a moment. In my eyes, he went on to score two more times but the record books say it was only one, with his deft finish against Sunderland proving to be his last goal for the club.
So, record breaker, history maker, Mister Thierry Henry, a player who didn’t just bring goals but also assists along with pure entertainment, what a signing he turned out to be.