Thierry Henry scores on return for Arsenal

TOM PILCHER
Last updated 10:55 10/01/2012
Thierry Henry
Reuters
RETURNING HERO: Thierry Henry celebrates a winning return for Arsenal at fulltime in their FA Cup defeat of Leeds United.

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With a familiar stroke of the right boot guiding the ball into the net, a celebratory hug with Arsene Wenger and pandemonium amongst ecstatic Arsenal fans, it was as if record goalscorer Thierry Henry had never left North London.

Substituted into the Premier League club's third round FA Cup match against Leeds United on 68 minutes with the score at 0-0, the on-loan striker took just 10 minutes to break the deadlock with the winning goal for his beloved Arsenal.

"I'm not coming back here to be a hero or prove anything, I'm coming here to help," Henry said in the match programme. He did.

Hero status Henry does not need, he already has that in spades, as the cheer that greeted his name when it was announced moments before kick off and that which marked his entrance onto the pitch confirmed.

Even when he was on the bench, Arsenal fans were voting for Henry as man-of-the-match and, rather sheepishly, the 34-year-old accepted the award.

"I think it's a joke," he said, looking bemused as he clutched the bottle of champagne.

In trademark style, the French striker calmly slotted the ball into the net from 10 yards out after being found in space on the left side of the penalty area by Alex Song.

Henry, who plays for Major League Soccer club New York Red Bulls, made 370 appearances for Arsenal from 1999 to 2007 and scored 226 goals.

The Red Bulls agreed to loan him to Arsenal until the end of February before the new MLS season starts in March with Henry saying Wenger had asked him to help out during the absence of Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh at the African Nations Cup.

The move had its critics but Henry has already silenced them, not only with his goal but also with his clear passion for the London club.

BLIND LOVE

"When I left the club I cried," Henry said in the programme.

"I haven't cried a lot in my career, but when I do it seems that something is happening with Arsenal. I love the club. They say love is blind right? It's difficult for me to say no to Arsenal."

On this form, with Arsenal struggling for goals and over-reliant on red-hot captain Robin van Persie, he will be a big help.

Arsenal dominated the early stages against their Championship (second division) opponents with Welsh youngster Aaron Ramsey the beating heartbeat of the side.

But it was not long after Andrei Arshavin had blasted a good chance over the bar from 15 metres after five minutes that the "Thierry Henry! Thierry Henry!" chants began.

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After the restart, the Frenchman immediately emerged from the bench to warm up, again winning rapturous applause.

His first touch was from an offside position, but the burst into space was Henry of old, leaving his marker for dead with electrifying pace from a standing start.

The last time Henry played against Leeds he scored four goals in a Premier League encounter in 2004 but this time around it was just the one strike.

Leeds forward Mikael Forssell even had a chance to equalise in the last minute and spoil the party but he was foiled by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Moments later and the match was over. Henry stood near the penalty area gazing up into the night sky as the Arsenal fans went crazy around him.

No one knew quite what to say, and judging by Henry's post-match interview, neither did he.

- Reuters

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