Picture courtesy of Dan Leydon follow on Twitter @danleydon & check out the blog here
Arsenal faced Leeds United in the FA Cup Fourth Round on the 1oth of January 2012, a day that will be remembered by all the Arsenal fans that were inside the Emriates Stadium, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend that had a ticket and had said to me, before the resigning of Thierry Henry, that if I wanted I could go with him. So when the deal went through for Henry to go back to Arsenal for a two month loan spell and that he would most probably be making his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt since 2007 and Having not heard from him regarding the the ticket, I had assumed that someone else had stepped in and taken the ticket. So when I phoned him to see if we were still on for the Leeds game, I was pleasantly surprised that we were.
I have not always been able to go to football matches and when I did manage to start to get to games, Thierry Henry had left Arsenal and so had never seen him play other than on TV so I was very excited to finally get to see the master at work in person. Me and my friend made our way to the Emirates on train and during the journey we talked on the line-ups as neither of us had checked so to add to the suspense of it all, and talked of possible transfers and the idiotic decision made by QPR to sack Warnock and most probably replace him with Mark Hughes, but a lot of the conversation was relating to Thierry Henry. My friend has been going to Arsenal game for over 30 years and for as long as I have known him, he has only missed 1 game, so there was plenty to talk about.
When we got to the Emirates and started to walk up the steps the chants of “Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry” had already started.When we got to the Stadium you see the Arsenal emblem along with past Arsenal greats arm in arm, and so I thought it would be fitting to take picture on the day of the return of the King, but as I approached the entrance, one the wall next to the turnstiles there was the image of Thierry Henry celebrating one of his many goals for Arsenal. A great photo opportunity on a night like that.
FIRST HALF (THE ANTICIPATION)
We arrived in perfect timing, as just when he got to our seats, which luckily we were not forced to sit on and could actually stand, the game kicked off. Arsenal were playing away from us and so saw that Chamakh was plating. We had expected it to be Ju-Young Park, if it was not going to be Henry, and I didn’t expect Henry to start as he wasn’t able to play in the reserve match against Sunderland a few days ago. With Henry at the club, and Chamakh playing, it did seem that this was almost like a last chance for Chamakh to show Arsene and Arsenal fans what he could do, but unfortunately him apart from his hold up play, he didn’t show any of us that he was a goalscorer that Arsene and Arsenal could rely on. Arshavin started the game very brightly making a lot of dangerous runs with the ball, but nothing fruitful came from them.
Me and my friend were very pleased to see that Oxlade-Chamberlain was starting the game as we both had talked out how promising a player he is on the way down. For me personally I believe him to be a much better winger than what Walcott is now, and in the same space of time that Walcott has been at the club Oxlade will be twice the player Walcott currently is. My mate argues that Wenger is not utilising his pace properly and that he should be playing down the middle as a striker, much like many other Arsenal fans I know, but I argue that he lacks two things. One being anticipation and Two being his decision making. He sometimes waits for the ball to be played before he makes his run, which is fine against the less intelligent defenders as he can use his speed and pace to great effect, but when he is against a defender that can read the game he can’t, and when he is one-on-one with a goalkeeper I am always 50/50 as to whether it is going to be a goal or not, unlike with Henry or van Persie.
The Arsenal midfield did an okay job, but gave the ball away far to often, but Leeds never really seemed to take advantage of that. Song won the ball back a lot of the time, but too often he had given it away. Ramsey for me was also rather disappointing as he always seemed to look for a flick or clever pass rather than just the simple pass and that normally meant giving the ball away too much. And as for Arteta I didn’t even really notice him until about 30 minutes into the game, which was not a good thing. Apart from Oxlade-Chamberlain who had impressed so did 19 year old Ignasi Miquel playing at Left-Back and Francis Coquelin who was playing at Right-Back. Both players were playing out of position, with Miquel normally a Central Defender and Coquelin and Defensive Midfielder. It was a shame that Coquelin had gone of injured and was not what Arsenal needed, another injury to a player playing in defence. Another youngster came on for him Nico Yennaris who also did a good job.
HALF-TIME (FOOD & FOREPLAY TALK)
The first-half finished and we went to go and get some over price and actually tasty food. I got a Pepperoni Pizza that cost £4.50! I can buy a whole pizza for less than that from the C0-0p around the corner but it hit the spot nicely along with my jumbo sized Coke. With no other matches to look up scores for we spent the time to watch the highlights being show inside the “foyer” and let us talk about the match so far and we both agreed that there was a lot of possession and not enough penetration, which led to some crude but effective metaphor of there being too much “foreplay” and not enough “penetration”. Like I said crude but also apt.
THE SECOND HALF (THE ANTICIPATION GROWS)
The second half got under way and it was clear what they wanted, more than a goal they wanted Thierry Henry. Song were led from one corner to the other with many renditions of “Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry” and so when he started to warm up the crowd went into song. The atmosphere from him just warming up was something, but soon people started concentrating on the game again. While I was watching Thierry warm up the one thing that struck me was how when Arsenal went on the attack, he would stop dead and watch with anticipation just as much as the rest of the fans in the stadium, but also what I noticed was how he was trying to pass on advice or instructions to the plays.
THE TIME WE HAD ALL BEEN WAITING FOR HAD COME!
When Henry, Walcott and Benayoun stopped warming up and Walcott and Henry started to get ready to come on the excitement grew, everyone now knew that their Prodigal son who had returned was about to grace the Emirates pitch once again.
Many were disappointed that Oxlade-Chamberlain came of for Walcott, as people were hoping that he would be getting more playing time as he was having a very good game and came close to scoring himself, but also it would have been great to see three generations play all at the same time. The Future of Arsenal along with the Current and the Historical, The Future, Now and Past, but that wasn’t in the script.
So back to the game, and back to the script that was in place. Walcott and Henry have come on for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh, who had worked hard and started to get towards goal and close to scoring, but never really troubled the Leeds United keeper. Henry was like a conductor on the pitch, pointing where players with the ball should pass it, pointing to Walcott to run down the wing, he really was showing the qualities that could well see him go into coaching or management when he does retire.
Henry was showing that he still had the movement all Arsenal fans were akin to seeing. I had watched online some of the goals he has scores this season while playing for the New York Red Bulls and I was fully aware he still had the cool calm finish of old, which is why I was confident with winning the the best with my friend, So when I saw Henry make that darting run and then Song play in that through ball I was waiting for the finish and from where I was behind the net I was lucky enough to fully appreciate the finish. Needless to say the crowd went crazy; Ape Shit; Nuts; Out-of-Control; Totally Insane; Barmy well look for yourselves.
Henry ran over to Arsène Wenger, and the whole team followed. Szczęsny came from goal and unlike when Chelsea did this the other night, this was totally genuine, unlike how the Chelsea one seemed, well, forced. The crowd were so in the moment that the celebrations lasted much longer than normal celebrations do and we hardly noticed that the game had restarted.
When the hairs on my arms started to make their way down and the excitement started to settle, it’s fair to say the maybe the fans and I started to get a bit greedy and hoped for a second, and that being a second from the man himself rather than any other player but it didn’t come. In some ways you have to feel sorry for Chamakh who had worked hard all evening, and didn’t manage to trouble the keeper and then Thierry Henry comes on and with his only shot of the game scores.
When I heard that Henry was going to be playing and that I was still going, I was just excited to see him play, and hoped that I would get to see him score, but never really believed that it would happen, not in his first game back, but I was confident that is going to score goals for Arsenal while he is on loan there, so much so that when another friend of mine, a certain Newcastle fan “@TOON_ARMY86 ” said that he didn’t think Henry will even score once, I had to take him up on that bet, Thank you for that Fiver mate.
The game finished 1-0 and Arsenal progressed, but none of that seemed to matter, it was all about Thierry Henry and the fairy tale story. Arsenal fans will now be hoping that this is not the end of it that story and that he is going to start a few games, the Manchester and Tottenham derby, to be exact and not just start but to score, and preferably the winner in both games. I would have said that is unlikely, but after tonight, I can’t say that it won’t happen as now nothing is impossible!
THE PICTURE I TOOK FROM OUTSIDE THE STADIUM.